Children from the Rohingya community play outside their shacks in a camp in New Delhi, India October 4, 2018. Image Credit: REUTERS

A United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) report presented recently recommends that charges of genocide be brought against the Myanmar military leadership. It urged the UN Security Council to refer the case for trial by The Hague-based International Criminal Court (ICC) or to create a special tribunal like that done for former Yugoslavia or Rwanda. Marzuki Darusman, a former attorney general of Indonesia who headed the three-member reporting panel, said in a statement: “I have never been confronted by crimes as horrendous and on such a scale as these.”

The 444-page report provides the most detailed description of the Rohingya massacres by the Myanmar authorities, which has left more than 10,000 dead and have driven 700,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh. The report exposes a high degree of planning and preparation and genocidal intent by the Myanmar military in eliminating the Rohingya from Myanmar and also blames Aung San Suu Kyi, State Counsellor of Myanmar, for not speaking up against the Rohingya persecution. The Myanmar government, instead of repentance, arrested two Reuters journalists for reporting on crimes against Rohingya and then sentenced them to 14 years imprisonment. The Myanmar representative at the UNHRC said that the report was biased. Two repatriation attempts following the last wave of expulsions in 2017 have fallen flat. Not one Rohingya, fearing for their lives, has returned to Myanmar following the Bangladesh-Myanmar agreement. Similarly, a UN memorandum last May with Myanmar has failed to take off in the absence of guaranteeing citizenship to Rohingya.

For Bangladesh the influx of nearly 700,000 Rohingya, on top of 300,000 who arrived earlier in 1978 and 1991 adds a crushing burden on its economy and disturbs its demographics. It is already the most densely populated country in the world. The dilemma for Bangladesh is that they cannot force the Rohingya back to the place where they do not want to return and where their lives are in danger. Referring the generals to the ICC has its own impediments. Since Myanmar is not a signatory to the ICC, the court does not have jurisdiction over the crimes committed in Myanmar. However, in a landmark case the court ruled in September that as Bangladesh is a signatory to the ICC, the court could pursue justice against the generals for the crimes committed in Bangladesh. The ICC has opened a probe that could lead to formal charges against the perpetrators of crimes against the Rohingya.

Among the Rohingya, children are the biggest victims of this genocide. The UNHCR estimates that children make up 55 per cent of the Rohingya refugee population in Bangladesh. Many children, who were either separated from their families or orphaned due to violence arrived unaccompanied. Many saw their parents and siblings killed in front of them before reaching Bangladesh in a state of destitution. A UNHCR family counting exercise in December 2017 found that more than 5,500 Rohingya families in Bangladesh are led by children under the age of 18. The UNHCR estimates more than half a million children are being denied a chance for proper education. In another report, United Nations International Children Emergency Fund (Unicef) has warned that nearly 400,000 Rohingya refugee children in camps, who are denied education, could become a ‘lost generation’. Fearful of Rohingya becoming a permanent fixture, Bangladesh avoids granting provision of formal education to these destitutes, a Unicef spokesman said. Aid agencies have set up some informal learning centres for children of ages 3 to 14, and older teenagers make use of them. These agencies fear that very soon there will be a large group of disaffected youth that may raise a different set of challenges.

Killings of children

Save the Children Fund (SCF), which has contributed significantly in providing aid to these poor refugees believes that nearly 40 per cent of Rohingya children face stunted growth. Apart from the generally inhospitable conditions in the camps, children are particularly vulnerable to diseases including diarrhoea, respiratory disorders and cholera. Since the children are undernourished they are much more likely to die, sometimes within days of contracting the disease.

Referring to the “indiscriminate extra-judicial killings of the Rohingya children “another report commissioned by the SCF Norway found out that the Myanmar government’s actions in August 2017 constitute violations of at least seven key articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. Even though the aid groups are doing their best, the refugees live in largely squalid, overcrowded camps. For most of the Rohingya refugees, life remains a daily struggle for survival.

Within Myanmar, the Buddhist majority is so overly polarised against the Rohingya that this displaced community can never go back and enjoy security and equality. Calling for reprisals against the Myanmar generals and unable to enforce them gives no confidence to the poor refugees. The international community needs to pool efforts and provide security and opportunities for survival for this long-discriminated community. One possible solution could be setting up safe havens in Rakhine state in Myanmar under international military supervision, short of which no Rohingya will return to their homes. It is a call to the conscience of the world community.

Sajjad Ashraf served as an adjunct professor at the Lee Kuan Yew School of Public Policy, National University of Singapore 2009 to 2017. He was a member of the Pakistan Foreign Service 1973 to 2008 and served as Pakistan’s Consul General in Dubai during the mid-1990s.