While the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC) describes the violence against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar as typical ‘ethnic cleansing’, India’s stand regarding the minority refugees also draws national as well as international criticism.
The present scenario in some of the refugee camps in Bangladesh such as Ukhiya or Teknaf is gruesome as official figures revealed by the United Nations state 370,000 Rohingya refugees have been found reeling for basic life support. Meanwhile, India’s declaration on deportation of illegal immigrants invited criticism and added a new round of debate in the country – national security vs. human rights.
International obligations for India as a country and the stance of the present government regarding the Rohingya crisis seem to find itself on a conflicting crossroad. India, not a signatory to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention that aims to protect the rights of the displaced, has resolved to a stringent illegal immigrant policy. However, the recent Rohingya crisis has spurred an international debate on the stance as criticism from UN and rebuttals from the Indian spokespersons have taken a spiteful shape. The increasing moral pressure from the media and international bodies such as the Human Rights Watch has posed an impending question on India’s verdict on the fate of the Rohingya Muslims that has taken refuge in the country.
According to the Human Rights Watch figure, approximately 40,000 Rohingya Muslims are settled in various parts of India out of which 16,500 are registered with the UNHRC.
However, the recent statement from the Minister of State Home Affairs Kiren Rijiju and Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh clears the air regarding India’s policy for illegal immigrants. Citing the issue of national security, India has previously expressed its future stand to deport all Rohingyas back to Myanmar. The Minister has also explained how the country not being a part of the refugee accord has no liabilities for the same.
On August 9, 2017, the Rijiju in a statement in the Parliament said that the government has issued a detailed instruction for the deportation of all illegal foreign nationals including Rohingyas.
Stating it as a matter of national security, the Union Home Minister Rajnath Singh said, “The illegal foreign immigrants will be strongly dealt with,” during a meeting in Jammu on Tuesday.
In the recent Human Rights Council meeting in Geneva, the UNHRC high commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein addressed the Rohingya crisis as a “systematic ethnic cleansing” by the Myanmar government and also condemned New Delhi’s move on deportation of the refugees largely concerning the Rohingya Muslims.
— Tirana Hassan (@TiranaHassan) September 12, 2017
Human Rights Council calls out India
Refuted by the recent deportation stand of India regarding the refugees especially the Rohingyas, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticised India and said, “I deplore the current measures in India to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their country.”
The 36th session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva saw Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein pointing out the “broader rise of intolerance towards religious and other minorities in India,” and mentioning the increasing threat to those who have voiced their concern for fundamental human rights. The assassination of Gauri Lankesh, the journalist who had tried to address the effect of hatred also found a mention in the commissioner’s statement.
Replying to the Indian home minister who said India is not a part of the refugee accord, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein added, “However, by virtue of customary law, its ratification of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the obligations of due process and the universal principle of non-refoulement, India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations.”
India’s response to Zeid’s comment was that the country’s internal security issues should not be overlooked in the wake of this international refugee crisis. Kiren Rijiju said that India is only trying to identify illegal immigrants and the government has not taken any firm decision of deporting Rohingya Muslims as of now.
In a tweet, Raveesh Kumar, the spokesperson of the Ministry of External Affairs shared India’s stand on September 9:
India remains deeply concerned about situation in Rakhine State in Myanmar and outflow of refugees from that region. Our full statement: pic.twitter.com/XYVdNfiK03
— Raveesh Kumar (@MEAIndia) September 9, 2017
This chorus of branding India as villain on Rohingya issue is a calibrated design to tarnish India’s image. It undermines India’s security.
— Kiren Rijiju (@KirenRijiju) September 13, 2017
Human Rights Watch Report
India is a member of the UN Human Rights Council and the council passed a resolution on March 2017, establishing an independent international fact-finding mission with a mandate to investigate allegations of recent human rights abuses in Burma, especially in Rakhine State. Will the India government deny the mission or intention of this as well?
“India has a long record of helping vulnerable populations fleeing from neighbouring countries, including Sri Lankans, Afghans, and Tibetans,” said Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia director of the Human Rights Watch. “Indian authorities should abide by India’s international legal obligations and not forcibly return any Rohingya to Burma without first fairly evaluating their claims as refugees,” she added.
India’s stand in terms of the Rohingya remains under the spotlight of the Human Rights Watch (HRW) that has been criticising India’s present government for its radical Hindu policies. “Without the willingness or capacity to evaluate refugee claims, the Indian government should put an end to any plans to deport the Rohingya, and instead register them so that they can get an education and health care and find work,” Ganguly said on behalf of HRW. “Most of the Rohingya were forced to flee egregious abuse, and India should show leadership by protecting the beleaguered community and calling on the Burmese government to end the repression and atrocities causing these people to leave.”
Divided world on Rohingya crisis
Since August 25 insurgence in the Rakhine state followed by the military recoil from the Myanmar army, the situation linked to the ethnic Rohingya community has become worse while the outlook of the global politics changed every hour. While some of the European countries believe that the Rohingya crisis can bring a share of refugee to their nations, China has directly supported the military crackdown in Myanmar. The foreign ministry of China has defended the military operations stating it as “legitimate duty to restore stability.”
Britain and Sweden asked for an immediate Security Council meeting concerning the rising violence. However, the Security Council meeting held behind closed doors in late August could hardly come to a conclusion.
On August 31, the Office of the High Commissioner for the United Nations Human Rights released a press note on the worsening scene in Rakhine. The UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee said, “The humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly and I am concerned that many thousands of people are increasingly at risk of grave violations of their human rights.”
Present scenario: Cox’s Bazaar
The ethnic minorities in Myanmar were under the scanner of the Human Rights wing of the United Nations over the last few years; however, the situation worsened after August 25 when a group of militants allegedly from this community carried out an exodus on a police post in the western Rakhine state of Myanmar. The military backlash became severe since then and almost a third of the Rohingya Muslims had to desert their homes and flee to Bangladesh.
Describing the emergency assistance deployed by the UNHRC, Duniya Aslam Khan, the UNHRC spokesperson for Asia and the Pacific in a statement on September 12 said, “The number of Rohingya refugees arriving in Bangladesh has dramatically increased. An estimated 370,000 people have arrived in Bangladesh since August 25. UNHRC is scaling up its emergency assistance. Our first airlift carrying relief supplies particularly shelter supplies have landed in Dhaka this morning. Further flights are underway. The initial two flights will address the shelter needs of 19,000 people who are currently living in the existing refugee camps and in makeshift shelters across Cox’s Bazaar.”