Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis Contents


151.We recognise that the specific commitments coming out of the World Humanitarian Summit, and in the New York Declaration, are barely a year old. However, the concepts captured and agreed in those processes have a much longer history. The Rohingya crisis seems to have tested to destruction many of the elements underpinning these undertakings and, of greater pedigree, the international community’s 2005 consensus over the responsibility to protect threatened populations.

152.We find it a particularly bitter irony that, within the World Humanitarian Summit’s Commitment to Action, “Myanmar”(Burma) appears as one of the countries specifically undertaking to, of all things, “Empower and protect women and girls” and “support the Secretary-General’s … initiative to end all preventable deaths of women and adolescent girls in crisis settings.”255

153.Burma’s military and security machinery has conducted a deliberate campaign of “textbook” ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya of Rakhine State — including the use of rape and sexual violence as a weapon — and seems to have done so with the acquiescence, at least, of the majority population and the civilian side of the Burmese government.

154.This action by Burma has imposed a huge cost in terms of human suffering on hundreds of thousands of people who have lived in Rakhine for many decades. In addition, Burma has presented the world with a huge financial cost; effectively a bill for humanitarian relief, and arguably longer term provision, estimated, by Bangladesh at least, to amount to a billion pounds per year.

155.There is the chilling prospect that this is the genesis of yet another long-term, politically intractable, cross-border displacement, whose resolution in the future defies negotiation, as much as its roots in the past elude explanation. The prospects of this situation persisting without becoming a powder-keg of radicalisation seems remote.

156.A vicious cycle of resentment and revenge is especially likely in circumstances where the Burmese perpetrators of so many atrocity crimes can so easily be perceived as having “got away with it” — both at a strategic level, in terms of the ethnic cleansing, but also at a human level, in terms of the vast number of allegations of murder, rape, assault, arson and other indignities and humiliations. Not only do the victims go without justice, and suffer further, but also other actual, and aspiring, regimes witness the lack of accountability and are emboldened.

157.We do not under-estimate the challenge; nor mistake our remit. The UK is one player within a complex multilateral environment with many circles of over-lapping, cross-cutting, and occasionally under-mining, interests. Our focus in this report has largely been on the potential to prevent or minimise the sudden emergence of predictable, ‘man-made’ – and therefore avoidable – humanitarian crises. It is axiomatic that this would be the most effective, efficient and economic use of resources ear-marked for humanitarian relief.

158.We commend the UK Government’s 5-point plan. It strikes the right notes. However, the conditions that we assume must underpin each strand appear to place the plan’s implementation out of reach in current and foreseeable circumstances. We urge the Government to share with us, as part of its reply to this report, its view of the conditions that must be in place for each of its plan’s 5 points to be implemented. To back this up we also request sight of the mechanisms, indicators and thresholds required to make effective and transparent assessments of progress towards each goal.

255 World Humanitarian Summit Outcomes: Commitments to Action, Core Responsibility 3: Leave No One Behind, Section D: Empower and Protect Women and Girls, see page 18:

“A number of existing initiatives were supported through new commitments. As an example, France, Myanmar, the Netherlands, RET International, Spain, Sumitomo Chemical, the Women’s Refugee Commission, NFPA, UN Women and World Vision committed to support the Secretary-General’s Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) initiative and corresponding roadmap, working to end all preventable deaths of women and adolescent girls in crisis settings.

15 January 2018