Since August 2017, the Rohingya people remain caught in a state of humanitarian crisis. As the Burmese security forces continue to incite monstrous violence against them, more than half a million have fled the Rakhine state. The United Nations has labeled the acts of arson, rape, mass killings and shelling as “a textbook case of ethnic cleansing”.
The Burmese Government and people largely consider the Rohingya to be illegal immigrants. Since 1982 they have not been recognized as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. They have been settled in Myanmar since the fifteenth century, and continued to grow in numbers through the eighteen hundreds, in ‘British India’. When the military seized power in 1962 the Rohingya were entirely stripped of citizenship and given foreign identity cards, which restricted the jobs and education they had access to. As a result of these laws their rights to travel, work, study, receive healthcare services, and practice their religion have been severely restricted. Even today they cannot vote, unless they register as ‘naturalised’ which gives them a status where rights to education and employment are still highly restricted. This legislation clearly violates their rights, as human beings to be recognised as a citizen, right to a nationality, rights to participate in society under law, right to an adequate standard of living, all rights enumerated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, recognized by all UN member states.
This institutionalised legal discrimination, and the rampant violence carried out by the military has facilitated the exodus that is causing more than 600,000 Rohingya to flee their home. The military has been accused of planting landmines along the border with Bangladesh to ‘discourage’ the refugees from returning.
Alongside decades of systematic discrimination and exclusion, the violence currently occurring in the Rakhine state is not at all new. The Rohingya have been suffering at the hands of the military for years. Just last year, more than four hundred Rohingya – including mothers and children – were detained by the police without lawful cause. In February of this year, accounts from two hundred Rohingya revealed cases of gang rapes, mass killings and the slaughter of children all carried out by the military. Until November of this year journalists and human rights activists had been restricted from entering the Rakhine state. For this reason, the extent of the abuse that the Rohingya have suffered because of the military is completely unknown.
The chronic abuse and suffering of the Rohingya not only violates an endless list of human rights, but the treatment of these people in Myanmar reflects that they are not even recognized as human. The most recent displacement and genocide of these people definitively strips them of their right to life, right to security, and right from inhuman treatment alongside almost every other universal human right.
Furthermore, Myanmar has also ratified the Genocide Convention, adopted by the United Nations in 1948. The Convention ensures that all signatories will ‘prevent and punish all acts of genocide’. Not only has Myanmar refused to recognise the true state of the disaster within its own borders, but it has also outrightly violated commitments which would have prevented this tragedy.
The case is clear. Myanmar’s treatment of its people, undoubtedly reveals their apathy towards human rights. Moreover, Myanmar as a signatory to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, as well as the Genocide Convention has breached international law.
In this case, it is critical for other member states, and signatories to the preceding conventions and declarations to push for attention, and directly address the issue. Further, even more importantly it is necessary for the surrounding nations to respond immediately. Bangladesh has been bearing the brunt of the conflict, considering how many refugees they have taken in, and provided asylum to. Regardless, Bangladesh as one of the world’s most densely populated nations cannot support the influx of refugees. India, and other surrounding states should not only support Bangladesh with their refuge efforts, but should also provide immediate asylum for the Rohingya refugees.
The government of India has decided to deport the 40,000 Rohingya refugees already in India. The State Department has filed an affidavit terming the Rohingya already settled in India as illegal immigrants. The Home Minister has said that his government “is not violating any international law” if the Rohingya are deported because India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention. Nonetheless, India is privy to conventions like the 1984 Convention against Torture and other Cruel or Inhuman Acts which requires states to take necessary action in order to prevent the inhumane treatment of a group of people.
It is not at all new that India has refused refugees from Myanmar. Despite not having signed the refugee convention, India has typically granted asylum to a large number of refugees from neighboring states, especially Tibetans and Sri Lankans. However when it comes to Afghan and Burmese refugees, India often refuses them asylum. When it comes to the Rohingya, India has vaguely stated that they have knowledge of Rohingya ties to ‘terror organisations’. In response to this, Prashant Bhushan – the lawyer protesting the deportation of the Rohingya – has said that “this is clearly a case of religious discrimination and an attempt to arouse an anti-Muslim feeling”. More importantly, if the Indian government has found links of Rohingya refugees to Pakistan based terror groups then it should produce the evidence and prosecute individuals rather than deporting 40,000 refugees.
However, beyond international law, the Indian Constitution states the case very clearly, the Rohingya should be given asylum. Article 21 of the constitution enshrines the right to life, which includes all people, not just citizens. The right to life established in the constitution declares that “no person shall be deprived of his life or personal dignity” except by due process of the law. Article 14 of the constitution prohibits India from refusing anyone “equality before the law or the equal protection of the laws within the territory of India”. Additionally, the Directive Principle of the constitution, Article 51 ensures that the state fosters respect for International law. The act of deportation directly violates the principle of non refoulement, which is listed in multiple conventions India is a signatory to, including the Convention against Torture of 1984. Considering this, there is no doubt regarding how India should be dealing with the Rohingya people.
Furthermore, when your neighbor flees their burning homes it is unacceptable to close the door, and force them back into the fire. The Rohingya are fleeing Myanmar to protect themselves and their families as the military destroys their homes. It is merciless to label these people as trespassers and aliens, and it robs them of their fundamental rights and their dignity by rendering them stateless. India has a responsibility to act humanely and grant these people asylum until the situation can be properly addressed and resolved.
Without India’s commitment to granting asylum to the Rohingya, Bangladesh is stifled with the influx of hundreds of thousands of unregistered Rohingya escaping Myanmar. In Bangladesh most of the refugees are kept in Cox’s Bazar where the conditions of the refugee camps are ‘dire’. Still, thousands of Rohingya are fleeing persecution, flooding these camps giving Bangladesh no other choice but to begin talks with Myanmar with hopes of forcefully repatriating these refugees. Human rights organisations have already called this news ‘unthinkable’ considering the current situation in Myanmar which by no means indicates a safe state for rehousing the refugees.
Before the forced return of the Rohingya, Human Rights Watch has urged the international community to impose targeted sanctions and an arms embargo in order to end its ‘ethnic cleansing campaign’. The organisation has also urged world leaders to prioritize this conflict and condemn the ongoing atrocities.
President Donald Trump has urged “strong and swift” UN action in order to end the crisis. American Secretary of State, Rex Tillerson has declared that the US will initiate “targeted sanctions” in order to stop the military crackdown. Prime Minister, Theresa May has vowed to tackle the “inhuman destruction of the Rohingya people”. There is without a doubt, a ‘global appeal’ to end this humanitarian crisis.
Trade sanctions have proven effective with past crises like this. During South Africa’s Apartheid trade sanctions and investment withdrawal from major trade partners like Great Britain put the economy under great strain. This eventually forced the government to address the problems that had caused the systemic discrimination of the country’s black population.
However, American trade accounts for less than two percent of Myanmar’s exports and imports. British trade accounts for less than one percent. In reality if either of these countries imposed trade sanctions the effects would be minimal. On the other hand, Myanmar’s imports and exports from India accounts for almost ten percent of trade – five times that of the UK and the US. Additionally, Myanmar’s imports and exports from China account for over thirty five percent of their trade. Therefore it would be more effective for China and India to impose sanctions.
However, neither China nor India have explicitly condemned Myanmar for the exile of the Rohingya. Initially, both countries have extended both their support and condolences to Myanmar for the militant Rohingya attack on police officers that preceded the exodus. India declared that it will “back Myanmar in its fight against terrorism”, while China gave “strong support” to Myanmar, and hopes that “the international community will create a good external environment so that Myanmar can solve its problems properly”. Both States have shown an outright failure to address the discrimination and genocide of the Rohingya people.
China and India are treading very lightly when it comes to criticizing Myanmar for its actions. In fact, both countries are investing in large scale infrastructure projects in the Rakhine state, Myanmar. India is funding a project designed to provide a sea-river-land link to its remote northeast region through a port, while China is investing in another port that will provide an oil-gas pipeline and rail link to China. China has also invested heavily in other projects like the Kyauk Phyu deep sea port link which would be incredibly important for China, providing another route for energy imports from the Middle East. The geopolitics of the region between two rival superpowers remains very tense.
While India and China compete for influence in Myanmar it seems that the fastest-growing humanitarian crisis in the world has been given a back seat. Ultimately, this poses a serious threat to the influence of human rights on the international stage. Myanmar has clearly breached international law, and disregarded human rights. The world has not only condemned these actions, but has planned to impose sanctions, and yet Myanmar has neglected to resolve this issue. Sadly, India’s failure to address this crisis stems from their geopolitical interests that lie in having strong relations with Myanmar