By Kalinga Seneviratne
SINGAPORE (IDN) – The Myanmar government has slammed a ruling by the International Criminal Court (ICC) declaring that they have jurisdiction to investigate the deportation of Rhoyingya Muslims as a possible crime against humanity. In a statement, Myanmar’s President Win Myint dismissed September 6 ICC ruling as based on “faulty procedure” and described it as of “dubious legal merit”.
In Dhaka, Secretary General Shahidul Islam of the regional grouping BIMSTEC told a press conference that both Bangladesh and Myanmar had shown “diplomatic maturity” by not raising contentious issues in a forum that is designed to promote economic cooperation.
He was asked why Royingya issue was not discussed at the August 30-31 summit of the six-nation regional grouping of countries that surround the Bay of Bengal in the Indian Ocean and it includes Bangladesh, India, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Bhutan, and Nepal.
Formed 21 years ago as an initiative of the former Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra, it is designed to promote economic cooperation among member nations. The secretariat of BIMSTEC established in 2014 is based in Dhaka.
Islam told Bangladeshi media that “no member states actually proposed that the Rohingya issue should be on the agenda”. He reiterated that “progress in areas where we have a consensus should not suffer for the areas where we don’t have a consensus”, adding, “we continue to keep up progress in trade, investment, connectivity and energy cooperation.”
Interestingly, leaders of both Bangladesh and Myanmar have been emphasizing economic cooperation as a better path to realizing peoples’ aspirations rather than argue about human rights. Though not publicly stated, there is a strong feeling among leaders in the region that the West is using minorities to destabilise the region.
Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina upon returning from the BIMSTEC summit held in the Nepali capital Kathmandu told a news conference in Dhaka that the main theme of the summit was “Towards a Peaceful, Prosperous and Sustainable Bay of Bengal Region”.
The premier said she also called upon the member states to work together to develop the BIMSTEC as a more dynamic and fruitful organisation through reorganising the issues of cooperation into three main clusters namely Sustainable Development, Security and Stability and People to People Contact on priority basis.
Giving the 43rd Singapore lecture organised by the ISEAS – Yusof Ishak Institute, Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi also presented a similar argument for regional cooperation. In an almost hour- long speech given on August 21 in Singapore, she said that Myanmar’s democratic transition faces many challenges and the uppermost is the economic empowerment of the people.
Suu Kyi explained that Myanmar’s road map for democratic transition is a sustainable development goals (SDG) path that has three pillars to create peace and stability. She reiterated that to build peace and stability, economic development plays a leading role.
Nowhere in her speech did she mention the words Rohingya nor Bengali, but she did refer to the crisis indirectly when she talked at length about the development challenge facing the Rakhine State.
“A sound base for peace and stability has to be broad and comprehensive,” argued Suu Kyi, noting that “addressing destabilising issues in Rakhine State was a fundamental part of building our Pillar 1” and resettlement of displaced persons now in Bangladesh has to be effected through the implementation of the agreement signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh in November 2017.
She also pointed out that there are over four million displaced people from Myanmar in Thailand, who are migrant workers. “Our two countries have succeeded in working together to resolve the issue amicably, in the spirit of good neighbourliness. Today, the majority of our workers have been legally registered and both employers and employees have benefitted from the improved arrangements,” she said. “Similarly, we hope to work with Bangladesh to effect the voluntary, safe and dignified return of displaced persons from northern Rakhine.”
“We have already mapped out potential sites for the resettlement of returnees. UN officials have been granted access to 23 villages in 13 village tracts, selected as part of a pilot assessment programme,” she noted. “Involved at various fronts and levels is the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine. It is an enterprise that brings together peoples and organisations from all parts of the country to work with the government to bring Rakhine into the orbit of our national plan for sustainable development.”
But, Suu Kyi warned that “the danger of terrorist activities, which was the initial cause of events leading to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine, remains real and present today. Unless this security challenge is addressed, the risk of inter-communal violence will remain”. She added that it is a threat that could have grave consequences not just for Myanmar but also for other countries in the region and beyond. “Terrorism should not be condoned in any form for any reason,” she argues.
Suu Kyi noted that those outside see the issues in Rakhine State differently to those living inside the country. People outside can pick and choose the issues they want to focus on. Thus, she argued that the main issue for the government is to attract foreign direct investments to create economic opportunities for her people, so that the transition to democracy could succeed.
Roads and electrification, she said, were fundamental requirement for her government and over 3,000 km of roads have been built in the least developed states of Chin and Rakhine. “Some of the steps we have taken which may not seem significant to observers (outside) make a great difference to the lives of our people,” she argued.
She cited the example of how the number of midwives appointed by the Health Ministry has increased from two digits to four. “In our villages the services of midwives are not limited to childbirth, they provide basic health care,” she pointed out.
In an obvious dig at the pontificating western media and human rights lobbies, she thanked the Singapore audience of more than 500 people for listening attentively to her. “We would like (you) to listen with understanding, listen with empathy, listen by putting yourselves in our place,” she added pointing out that if you listen to her people, you will understand the challenges they face. “They are not just the challenges the world sees, but the challenges that each and every one of our people see for himself or herself.”
She expressed confidence that ASEAN, better than any other parts of the world will understand Myanmar’s needs, “because we have been through the same experiences of colonialism, of nation building, of trying to develop an undeveloped economy, of trying to educate an uneducated citizenship,” she concluded. [IDN-InDepthNews – 08 September 2018]
Photo: Secretary General Shahidul Islam of the BIMSTEC has said member states, including Bangladesh and Myanmar, have shown their “diplomatic maturity” by not raising the Rohingya issue at the just-concluded Summit in Kathmandu. Credit: bdnews24.com
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