A few days shy of August 25 – the first anniversary of Myanmar’s massive and brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing that forcibly displaced 725,000 Rohingya Muslims into neighboring Bangladesh – Myanmar’s de facto leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, said it was up to Bangladesh “to decide how quickly they want the [refugee repatriation] process to be completed.”
Wrong. It is not up to Bangladesh.
The Myanmar government bears responsibility for the Rohingya refugee crisis. Resolving it will necessitate fundamental changes in Myanmar, such as mechanisms in place to ensure the Rohingya’s rights and safety, as preconditions for refugees to go home.
It is premature to get bogged down in technical and logistical details, but that is precisely what is happening in the ministerial meetings between Bangladesh and Myanmar. They are arguing over the language of ID cards rather than assessing Myanmar’s progress toward ensuring full respect for returnees’ human rights, equal access to nationality, and security among communities in Rakhine State.
One needs to look no further for striking evidence of the Myanmar government’s lack of commitment to these reforms than the treatment of six Rohingya refugees, including three teenage children, who dared to exercise their right of return to Myanmar. Authorities there imprisoned and severely tortured them, and on June 1, paraded them in front of visiting journalists in an attempt to show that they were treating Rohingya well and that it was safe to return. Once released, the six fled back to Bangladesh.
The refugee repatriation question ought not to be reduced to a squabble between Bangladesh and Myanmar. This woeful anniversary should be occasion for concerned governments to take a close, hard look at Myanmar’s conduct and to consider whether the government has done enough to hold accountable those responsible for the grave international crimes that were committed. They should also pressure Myanmar to meet the conditions necessary so that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya can return home voluntarily, safely, and with dignity.