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Tuesday, July 16, 2024

Questioning Cambodia’s role in the Rohingya crisis solution

Cambodia can urge Myanmar to pay attention to the Rohingya issue and abide by international law. Cambodia must present a strong stance for justice and human rights across all international platforms on issues like the Rohingya crisis in line with its chairmanship of ASEAN.

Since August 2017, rampant persecution and violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state have pushed hundreds of thousands of Muslim minority people, known as Rohingyas, to abandon their homes and seek sanctuary in Bangladesh. According to UN estimates, 200,000 Myanmarese civilians have already sought refuge in Bangladesh following prior displacements. Many more have traveled to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia, frequently with the assistance of human traffickers.

In Myanmar, civilian and military authorities deny targeting Muslims in Rakhine and suggest that the international world is misrepresenting the severity of the violence, a viewpoint shared by extreme nationalists.

Read more: Five years of the Myanmar-Bangladesh Rohingya crisis

The number of individuals living in Bangladeshi camps has risen to over 1.1 million, leading ASEAN to consider a meaningful reaction. The safe and voluntary return of refugees currently residing in Bangladeshi displacement camps was a topic of discussion during the ASEAN Foreign Ministers’ Meeting in January 2019. They finalized preparations for the ASEAN Coordinating Centre for Humanitarian Assistance on Disaster Management (AHA Centre) to analyze Rakhine’s needs. This would enable them to have a better understanding of the areas of collaboration that ASEAN may help in the repatriation process in order to increase refugee confidence and trust in returning home.

Seeking ASEAN’s help

Bangladesh sought proactive support from ASEAN for kick-starting the repatriation without any further delay. Foreign minister AK Abdul Momen has sought proactive support from the Association of Southeast Nations (ASEAN) for the early repatriation of stranded Myanmar nationals from Bangladesh to Myanmar. The FM made this call at the Bangladesh-Indonesia bilateral meeting with his Indonesian counterpart Retno LP Marsudi in Jakarta on July 18.

AK Abdul Momen will be on a diplomatic visit to Cambodia. He will attend the ASEAN Regional Forum meeting in Cambodia on Aug 5-6, 2022. He may raise the Rohingya issue at the meeting seeking ASEAN and its chair Cambodia’s help in the Rohingya crisis solution.

ASEAN is working to create a secure and sustainable environment for refugees to return home. Cambodia’s ASEAN Chairmanship is a great opportunity for Rohingya repatriation. Cambodian Chairmanship of ASEAN provides a great opportunity to facilitate the safe and dignified return of the Rohingyas, now sheltered in Bangladesh, to Myanmar. There are potential security risks to Bangladesh, Myanmar, and the greater region if the Rohingya crisis is left festering for a much longer period of time and the vulnerability of the displaced people to radicalism, extremism, terrorism, and cross-border crimes will increase over time.

As chair and an active member of ASEAN, Cambodia can help resolve this crisis by being a mediator. Cambodia can play a holistic, significant and strategic role. It can raise the issue within the ASEAN platform. Cambodia can negotiate with Myanmar diplomatically and bilaterally as it has good relations with Myanmar.

Read more: Why Myanmar military should step forward for Rohingyas?

However, ASEAN was compelled to postpone the AHA Centre needs assessment due to the recent escalation of hostilities between Myanmar’s government armed forces and the banned Arakan Army, an insurgent organization in Rakhine. At the 33rd ASEAN Summit in Singapore, ASEAN issued a statement expressing profound concern over the worsening humanitarian catastrophe in Myanmar.

Addressing Myanmar’s humanitarian catastrophe

This is a great start toward acknowledging that Myanmar’s humanitarian catastrophe necessitates immediate regional response and informing Myanmar’s administration that more needs to be done. To address the Rakhine situation, ASEAN must exhibit its inventive spirit and practical problem-solving abilities.

Member states must be prepared to collaborate bilaterally and via ASEAN with the afflicted nations. They can also interact with the UN and other foreign organizations working in Bangladeshi refugee camps independently. The safety of their families and their livelihoods were the two main concerns raised by refugees during Dr. Vivian Balakrishnan’s (Singapore’s Foreign Minister) visit to a refugee camp in November 2018.

By continuing to engage with Myanmar and encouraging conversations on long-term peace options, ASEAN can address these issues. It is vital that solutions not only address the concerns of individuals returning to Rakhine from displacement camps, but also those of minority communities who are now living in deplorable conditions in the state.

Bangladesh has sought Cambodia’s help – in its capacity as the rotating chair of ASEAN to help find a solution to the refugee problem with Myanmar, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Cambodia said in a press release. Abdul Momen, Foreign Minister of Bangladesh, paid an official visit to Cambodia from 14-16 July in order to review and further strengthen the existing good bilateral ties between Phom Penh and Dhaka.

During his meeting with Prak Sokhonn, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Abdul Momen briefed on the situation of Rohingya issue. Momen asked Cambodia, the current ASEAN chair, to find a sustainable solution to their speedy, safe, and dignified repatriation, saying Bangladesh wishes to see the first process of repatriation happen during Cambodia’s ASEAN Chairmanship.

However, Sokhonn has informed his Bangladeshi counterpart that the ASEAN Chair’s attention to this issue would mainly depend on the solution to Myanmar’s current crisis. He also stressed the complexities and challenges involved in the process. But we hope that Cambodia, the ASEAN leader and longtime strategy, and the economy of Myanmar should and must play their due role in the Rohingya crisis solution.

Read more: Myanmar court sentences Suu Kyi to 4 more years in prison

Cambodia can urge Myanmar to pay attention to the Rohingya issue and abide by international law. Cambodia must present a strong stance for justice and human rights across all international platforms on issues like the Rohingya crisis in line with its chairmanship of ASEAN. It needs to keep in mind the great words of Martin Luther King Jr, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”.

To ensure long-term peace and security in Rakhine, ASEAN can provide direct assistance in some sectors. Building schools, vocational training, and community healthcare facilities are all possible approaches.

To alleviate suspicion, anxiety, and hostility among diverse groups, a reconciliation process must be implemented. Reconciliation is a long and laborious process, as seen in numerous countries with internal conflicts. Although there have been no systematic reconciliation efforts, the Myanmar government has established an Independent Commission of Inquiry. It remains to be seen if the process will be conducted professionally and fairly, and whether those guilty of the violence will be held accountable.

Setting up a judicial redress system, akin to the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia, which was set up to pursue the Khmer Rouge’s atrocities, might be very helpful in the reconciliation process. A nation or organization that has not been involved in the war, such as ASEAN, may be seen as a reliable partner in establishing such a tribunal.

Lessons learned from the war

ASEAN may begin this process by compiling lessons learned from the war, forming support groups on the ground to better understand the problems of the state’s residents, and bringing diverse communities and the government together to transcend the past.

ASEAN’s devotion to the principle of non-interference is its most significant impediment to taking a more active role in Rakhine. It comes up anytime ASEAN tries to talk about a significant issue in one of its member states. The importance of the non-interference rule in crisis situations has to be re-calibrated for ASEAN to work more successfully.

A revision of the ASEAN Agreement on Disaster Management and Emergency Response would be the clearest indication of ASEAN’s willingness to help (AADMER). AADMER only authorizes ASEAN to intervene in a humanitarian crisis if the afflicted member state requests it.

Read more: US imposes sanctions on China, Myanmar, North Korea and Bangladesh

Because Africa has endured several guerrilla wars and pandemics such as the Ebola outbreak, their experiences might be beneficial in establishing systems to deal with complicated humanitarian situations.

Because ASEAN is Southeast Asia’s only regional organization, leaders cannot turn a blind eye to any sort of human misery. The task of establishing a strong and obvious humanitarian mandate under the AADMER will only get more difficult in the future.



The writer is a Dhaka-based freelance writer and women and human rights activist. The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.