‘UK can play crucial role in ending Rohingya genocide’

Cross-party panel also discusses role of international community and International Criminal Court

‘UK can play crucial role in ending Rohingya genocide’

The UK can play an instrumental role in bringing an end to the Rohingya genocide by Burmese authorities, a parliamentary session heard late Monday. 

The message was conveyed at an event organized by the Justice for Rohingya Minority group, which hosted a cross-party panel of MPs including Catherine West of the Conservative Party, Rushanara Ali and Helen Goodman of the Labour Party and Baroness Sheehan, the Liberal Democrat Party’s spokesperson for international development. 

The session also featured Ben Emmerson QC, an international lawyer who sat as a judge at the International Criminal Tribunals for Rwanda and the former Yugoslavia and Sirazul Islam, an 18-year-old genocide survivor who was born in a refugee camp in Bangladesh, where he spent eight years of his life before moving to the UK.

“I would like to thank you all for inviting me to this event and allowing me to share with you my experience of being a Rohingya youth,” Islam said.

“I was born in a refugee camp, in a land I couldn’t call my own and devoid of the basic comforts that many of you grew up with. Children normally want to have fun, play with their friends and enjoy school. But for me, survival was the most important thing, as we didn’t have those enjoyments in the camp.

“And as the camp was not officially registered with the Bengali government, it lacked many basic necessities such as clean water, comfortable bedrooms and bathrooms. Life in the camp was difficult, but it was even more difficult knowing that I couldn’t return to the land that my family was born in and had lived for many years and called home”. 

Islam’s testimony of Rohingya life in a refugee camp cast a somber mood over the room and made clear the realities faced by thousands, if not millions, of Rohingya refugees living in limbo in Bangladesh. 

“Islam’s harrowing account should be a wakeup call to all of us and remind us that this genocide is still going on and that we as a nation of morals and humanity should stand up and fight for the justice of our fellow Rohingyas,” said West, who was also moderating the event. 

She also cited the fact that the UK, as a global power, was a leading advocate of human rights and as such held a unique position at the UN Security Council (UNSC) in bringing to light the plight of minority peoples such as the Rohingya in Myanmar. 

“The UK has been a leading advocate of human rights since the end of the Second World War and has used its position as one of the permanent members of the Security Council to influence and change how we view human rights and what laws and policies we legislate on the issue. 

“And as such, the UK has been at the vanguard in distributing aid to Rohingya refugees and attempting to find a solution to end the Rohingya genocide,” West added. 

The role of the international community in ending the genocide was also discussed and in particular what the International Criminal Court (ICC) could do to bring justice to the Rohingya and hold to account the perpetrators of the genocide. 

Emmerson said that due to China’s permanent position on the Security Council and its close relationship with the Burmese government, it is difficult to pass a resolution against Myanmar and especially a referral to the ICC.

“It is expected that China would veto any resolution against Burmese authorities in the Security Council, and so essentially this creates an impasse that we have seen occur many times throughout the UNSC’s existence,” he stated. 

Emmerson said that one of the viable options was to impose economic sanctions on the Burmese government and lobby international firms against doing business in Burma as well as lobbying Western governments to boycott Myanmar and isolate it economically. 

According to Amnesty International, more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, have fled Myanmar and crossed into Bangladesh after Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the minority Muslim community.

The Rohingya, described by the UN as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.

The UN has documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings and disappearances committed by Myanmar state forces. In a report, UN investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.