YANGON — The government on Thursday dismissed as unfair and unbalanced a declaration by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) alleging human rights violations against Rohingya by Myanmar security forces, and rejected its use of the terms “ethnic cleansing” and “state-backed violence” to describe the situation in Rakhine State.
The 45th session of the Council of Foreign Ministers of the OIC was held in Bangladesh last weekend. At the end of the two-day meeting, the group released a statement, dubbed the “Dhaka Declaration”, expressing concern over alleged human rights violations by Myanmar security forces.
The Myanmar military (or Tatmadaw) launched a clearance operation targeting Rohingya militants following their Aug. 25 attack on several border security outposts. The months-long operation has resulted in the displacement of nearly 700,000 Rohingya. The UN has described the mass devastation, arbitrary killings and arson attacks against the Rohingya as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” while international rights groups have called for the Tatmadaw’s leadership to be brought before the International Criminal Court.
Of the OIC declaration’s 38 points, four relate to the Rohingya crisis. Top OIC officials have consistently urged member states to keep international pressure on Myanmar and to provide humanitarian assistance to traumatized Rohingya now living in Bangladeshi refugee camps, which have been described as the largest such site in the world.
The OIC declaration reads: “We express deep concern over the recent systematic brutal acts perpetrated by security forces against the Rohingya Muslim Community in Myanmar.” It asserts that the arbitrary killings, rapes and arsons that prompted the mass exodus to the neighboring country were tantamount to “ethnic cleansing.”
The group commended the personal leadership shown by Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in addressing the plight of the Rohingya people and seeking international support to manage the crisis, and for implementing steps to help displaced people in line with the recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission. The OIC welcomed a draft resolution submitted by members states to the UN General Assembly in November last year concerning the situation facing the Rohingya community of Myanmar. It also agreed to address accountability for rights abuses against Rohingya in Myanmar by establishing an impromptu ministerial committee led by the African nation of Gambia.
On Wednesday, Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying that the OIC declaration “lacks balance and fairness” as it failed to denounce the brutal attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), formally known as Harakah Al-Yaqeen (“faith movement”), on several dozen Myanmar government security outposts in northern Rakhine in late 2017. It said the current humanitarian crisis in northern Rakhine was “triggered” by the militant group.
The MOFA statement asserts that “It is highly regrettable that the Dhaka Declaration did not even mention the immediate need for the repatriation of displaced persons from Rakhine in accordance with the bilateral agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh.” It also points out that the declaration failed to include any suggestions that could promote harmony and sustainable development in Rakhine State.
In the statement, Myanmar urges Dhaka to take steps to help the repatriation process agreed by the two nations early this year, as the monsoon season is approaching. It says Myanmar is “ready to facilitate the voluntary, safe and dignified return” of displaced Rohingya.
UN and international experts have warned that displaced Rohingya could face mudslides during the coming rainy season as they are living atop deforested hills in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar district.