A regional fact-finding mission on the Rohingya crisis has recommended an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on the Myanmar army and senior officials in order to create a safe environment for the return of the displaced refugees.
The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean) Parliamentarians for Human Rights group (APHR) is seeking the assistance of India, China and Russia in achieving these goals - three countries it claims are all selling arms to Myanmar.
“It is their arms and bombs which are used against Rohingyas,” APHR Chairperson and Malaysian MP Charles Santiago said at a press conference organized by the Dhaka Tribune at the Sonargoan Hotel in Dhaka on Wednesday.
“Rohingyas are nowhere in the discussion. They should be given a clear idea about the repatriation agreement and its content.”
Charles Santiago said the safe and voluntary repatriation of the Rohingyas will be “almost impossible”without the presence of a peacekeeping force.
He emphasized five key points: the accountability of Myanmar government and the country’s army; compensation for the Rohingyas; peacekeeping during repatriation; recognition of the Rohingya; and their right to practice their own religion and culture.
Current and former lawmakers from Asean countries arrived in Bangladesh on Sunday to meet with refugees, humanitarian organizations, parliamentarians and government officials in Cox’s Bazar and Dhaka.
They assessed the situation, potential regional responses, and what is needed to push their governments and the wider international community into action.
“Asean as a regional bloc can and should play a leading role in resolving this crisis,” said the APHR chairperson at the press conference. “(But) the question we kept hearing from everyone we met, was: ‘Where is Asean?’
“As representatives of the people of Asean, we are here today to demand that our governments step up. We therefore call on Asean to convene an urgent meeting of foreign ministers of all members states to discuss the crisis and establish a plan of action to resolve it.”
Former Thai lawmaker Rachada Dhnadirek said Asean countries must stop using the non-interference principle as an excuse for inaction.
“This has been a long-standing issue affecting the entire region, and Asean needs to take concrete, collective action to confront it directly,” she said.
“Financial commitment to support humanitarian assistance is critical, but it must be accompanied by pressure on the Myanmar military to end persecution that lies at the root of the crisis.”
Louis Ng, a member of the Singaporean parliament, described the stories the group heard directly from Rohingya parents who witnessed their children killed to children scarred physically and emotionally by brutal violence, as “heartbreaking”.
“We need more awareness within Asean countries of these atrocities, and we need to listen to the voices of the refugees, themselves, as we determine how to approach a resolution,” he said.
“The magnitude of the influx was striking. A sprawling mega-camp the size of a city has sprung up in a matter of months.”
Louis NG said the people and government of Bangladesh deserve “great praise” for their hospitality and handling of the crisis.
“Taking in nearly 700,000 refugees in a span of just five months is no easy task, especially for a country with limited resources,” he said.
The delegation’s visit coincided with a previously announced - but now delayed - start date of January 23 for the first repatriations of refugees, based on a bilateral agreement between the governments of Bangladesh and Myanmar signed in November 2017.