Bangladesh and Burma: the Rohingya crisis Contents

Conclusions and recommendations

Crisis prevention

1.The UK Government should reflect on why so much evidence of discrimination, marginalisation and abuse of the Rohingya people within Rakhine State in Burma was seemingly ignored for so long, rather than translated into effective action by the international community. Conduct, described clearly as amounting to “ethnic cleansing”, has been regularly reported by groups such as Human Rights Watch for some years and yet nothing effective seems to have been attempted to stop it. Indeed, initiatives such as support for a national census, reflecting the exclusion of the Rohingya people from public life in Burma, seem to have reinforced the problem. (Paragraph 35)

2.If previous world summits on tackling threats, humanitarian crises and their impacts are to turn out to be more than festivals of warm words and good intentions, the international community is going to have to look much harder at how to implement responsibilities to protect threatened populations and to prevent, and end, crises. This may include UN Security Council members and other large states establishing a clearer consensus around indicators and trigger-points for action as well as then taking tougher and more proactive steps in relation to their avowed responsibilities towards threatened peoples — regardless of trade relationships or traditional alliances. (Paragraph 37)

3.We recommend that the UK, and like-minded states, should reflect on how to establish a more proactive approach to atrocity awareness and prevention. This should involve recalibrating the weight given to emerging hard evidence, on the one hand, and the weight given to signals and hopes of ‘the right direction of travel’ on the other. The human, and financial costs, of not doing so seem to be again manifest in the current plight of the Rohingya. (Paragraph 38)

Empowering affected people

4.It is not surprising that Rohingya leadership structures are not yet evident in the camps given the degree of disruption to effective means of community communications, let alone societal norms, that has occurred and the casualties the population has sustained. We urge DFID, and other organisations active and trusted amongst the refugees, to think creatively and sympathetically about how to encourage peaceful and forward-looking leadership structures, including women, to emerge from the chaos so that Rohingya voices can be heard. (Paragraph 46)

Gender based violence

5.We believe that an early, concerted and professional effort to gather the evidence of violent crimes against civilians — whether badged as atrocity crimes, crimes against humanity, ethnic cleansing or genocide — is vital for three reasons:

6.Given the airplay that the UK’s ‘’Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict Initiative ‘ has been given by the Government, we are disappointed that it took so long to send any of its specialist resources on sexual violence to advise on dealing with the experiences of the Rohingya in Rakhine State. An initiative along these lines should be initiated in advance of agreement to UN access called for by the Minister; as that simply may never happen. (Paragraph 62)

7.We seriously doubt the efficacy of urging the Burmese authorities to investigate the conduct of its own forces personnel in a “thorough and transparent manner”. The Burmese internal inquiry has already cleared its forces of any wrongdoing in a way which the UK Government describes as “simply not credible”. We urge the UK Government to seek other paths to a resolution of this issue. As elsewhere in the world, in the longer term a lasting resolution will require justice to be seen, and felt, to have been done. Should it ever come to pass, it would be far better for such a process to have a basis in evidence gathered by forensic professionals contemporaneously. (Paragraph 63)

Supporting refugees and the host community

8.We welcome the UK Government’s swift action and, given the emerging evidence of the level of need, we commend the practical approach taken to the provision of a substantial sum early in the crisis. As part of any reply to this report, we would appreciate a sense of the Government’s on-going financial commitment. (Paragraph 80)

9.If the Bangladesh government’s motivation is to work with structures and personnel that are familiar then it would be less than impressive if the relevant UN agencies could not organise themselves to provide for this while ensuring that the right expertise is available, closer to the ground, to provide the required organisation of services. If Bangladesh prefers IOM to UNCHR on practical or presentational grounds linked to the status and future of the Rohingya, then that may be symptomatic of a more fundamental issue that will require attention and dialogue as realistic options for the short, medium and longer term future of the Rohingya refugees become clearer. (Paragraph 83)

10.We urge the UK Government to initiate a respectful discussion with counterparts in Bangladesh to identify whether there are any ways in which operations in Cox’s Bazar, or any other part of Bangladesh, can be speeded up and any unnecessary burdens of bureaucracy reduced, including the registration, and re-registration of NGOs seeking to render assistance to traumatised, displaced people. (Paragraph 87)

11.The Minister referred to the situation as a “protracted crisis”. We welcome the fact that the Government is in discussions with other donors and agencies on how to respond to its potential long term nature of this crisis. We ask the Government to include in any reply to this report, an account of the discussions with the Bangladesh government on the one hand, and the Rohingya communities’ leadership, on the other, regarding the likely and/or tolerable timetable for the current status quo. (Paragraph 102)

12.In addition, the UK Government should seek a consensus, amongst other UN Members states who supported the World Humanitarian Summit Communique, around how further to support the economic development of Bangladesh, as host country, and the livelihoods of the Rohingya including the potential to offer a “special development zone”. (Paragraph 103)

Safe and durable solutions and voluntary returns

13.We welcome the requirement by the UK of the cessation of violence in Rakhine State as one of the precursors of any attempt to return the Rohingya from the relative safety of Bangladesh; in line with the principles enshrined in the World Humanitarian Summit Communique. We applaud and encourage attempts by the UK and the international community to achieve that goal. However, we are unsure how a meaningful dialogue with the Burmese military and security administration is possible when it denies so brazenly that it was responsible for any aggression in the first place. Pursuing a parallel dialogue with, what might be termed, the civilian side of Burma’s government seems worthwhile but unlikely ultimately to be effective as it does not have the whip-hand on this issue. (Paragraph 115)

14.We are concerned by the emphasis on returning refugees to the Rakhine by the Bangladesh and Burmese government when the situation still seems fraught and very far from safe, dignified and durable as set out in the World Humanitarian Summit Communique. It is unacceptable to propose that the Rohingya be returned to live in Burmese-run internment camps; inevitably to be faced with further privations, potential abuses and uncertain access for outside agencies; and likely only to be displaced once again if there is further violence. (Paragraph 130)

15.There needs to be an official body to assess and collate all of the evidence of crimes against humanity which NGOs and other visitors to the region can submit. We recommend that Minister Burt, as the UK’s international commissioner on the International Commission on Missing Persons, should involve the Commission in collecting evidence in Northern Rakhine for future criminal convictions. (Paragraph 138)

Safe migration

16.We believe DFID should consider developing specific plans to tackle the risks of people trafficking into modern slavery in relation to the Rohingya. We hope a portion of the £40 million package recently announced by the UK Government to counter global modern slavery can be allocated to help prevent trafficking of the Rohingya. (Paragraph 150)

15 January 2018