On 31 December 2020, at its 48th plenary meeting, the 75th UN General Assembly took action on third committee resolution against Myanmar. In discussing the Third Committee report, “Human rights situations and reports of special rapporteurs and representatives” (document A/75/478/Add.3), the Assembly considered draft resolution IV, “Situation of human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar”, contained therein. The 23-point proposal regarding allegations of alarming extent of human rights violations by the Myanmar military and security forces in Kachin, Rakhine, Chin and Shan states of the country was discussed in the meeting. The Assembly adopted the draft resolution, expressing grave concern at reports of serious rights violations by the military and security forces against the Rohingya, notably in Kachin, Rakhine, southern Chin and Shan States, leading to the forced displacement of more than 860,000 Rohingya and other minorities to Bangladesh.
About voting record, a total of 130 countries voted against Myanmar, including nine which previously voted in favour of Myanmar, while 26 countries, including India, Bhutan, Japan, Sri Lanka, Singapore, abstained from voting. China, Russia, Belarus, Cambodia, Laos, Philippines, Vietnam and Zimbabwe voted in Myanmar’s favour. It may be mentioned that at its 13th meeting, on 18 November 2020 the Committee adopted draft resolution A/C.3/75/L.34, by a recorded vote of 131 to 9, with 31 abstentions.
Understandably, Myanmar’s representative rejected the proposal and defended their position. The representative of Myanmar, justified their position by saying that it is an exploitation of human rights initiatives for political purposes, which should be avoided. Defending Myanmar’s position further, the country’s representative mentioned that the issues being discussed are Myanmar’s internal matter. This time, Myanmar came up with the argument that the new government in the country is respectful to human rights issue. In the words of the delegation, Myanmar has taken strides in addressing human rights, and the current leaders of its elected Government do not condone violations, with 67 per cent of cases having been investigated. The
winning party in recent elections has reached out to others in forming a new Government and is willing to engage in meaningful dialogue with related ethnic groups.
The resolution passed in the plenary meeting on 31 December 2020 was earlier passed on 18 November 2020 has comprehensively dealt with the situations and actions that caused suppression and brutality against the Rohingyas and other ethnic communities by the Myanmar regime. The resolution categorically indicated that the UN members are alarmed by the findings of the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar of evidence of gross human rights violations and abuses suffered by Rohingya Muslims and other minorities, perpetrated by the security and armed forces of Myanmar, which, according to the fact-finding mission, undoubtedly amount to the gravest crimes under international law.
The resolution has expressed deep concern at the limited progress on the fact-finding mission’s recommendations to conduct prompt, effective, thorough, independent and impartial investigations and to hold perpetrators accountable for crimes committed across Myanmar, Concerned that, contrary to the fact-finding mission’s recommendations, laws, orders, policies and practices at all levels of Government limiting freedoms of movement, expression, association and assembly, or which are discriminatory in their application or impact, have not been reviewed, amended or repealed. It has reiterated its grave concern that, in spite of the fact that Rohingya Muslims lived in Myanmar for generations prior to the independence of Myanmar, held full documentation and participated actively in government and civic life, they were made stateless by the enactment of the 1982 Citizenship Law and were eventually disenfranchised, from 2015, from the electoral process,
More importantly, the resolution welcomes the order of the International Court of Justice of 23 January 2020 indicating provisional measures in the case lodged by the Gambia against Myanmar on the application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which concluded that, prima facie, the Court had jurisdiction to deal with the case, which found that the Rohingyas in Myanmar appeared to constitute a “protected group” within the meaning of article 2 of the Convention, and that there was a real and imminent risk of irreparable prejudice to the rights of the Rohingya in Myanmar, and taking note that Myanmar submitted its report in response to the Court’s order on 22 May 2020, and measures adopted in this regard.
As the voting pattern indicates, Myanmar has lost the support of nine countries of Africa and the Pacific on the issue of human rights of Rohingya and other minorities in the South Asian nation. These countries have changed their vote from ‘abstention’ and ‘no voting’ to ‘yes’ on a proposal at the plenary session of UN General Assembly on Thursday night. These nine countries are Cameroon, Equatorial Guinea, Namibia, Kenya, Lesotho, Mozambique, Tanzania, Palau and Solomon Islands. They abstained from voting on the proposals at the UN General Assembly in 2019 and 2020 respectively and some of them also did not participate in voting. Hence, the change in their positions in voting reflects a support for Bangladesh as well as the Rohingya issue. It is undoubtedly a positive development in the UN based diplomatic efforts of Bangladesh and the global community in support of the Rohingyas. Particularly, one can see the change in a very short span of time because these countries voted on 18 November 2020 on the same proposal and then changed their voting positions on 31 December 2020 at the plenary session.
Now an important question why did these countries change their positions in favour of Bangladesh and the Rohingyas? Out of nine countries, seven are from Africa and two are from the Pacific. First of all, it is clearly an impact of additional efforts of Bangladesh in highlighting the importance of supporting the resolution against the Myanmar regime about their continuing gross violations of human rights and ‘genocidal’ crimes against the Rohingyas and other minority ethnic communities. Second, the rethinking of these countries may also be attributed to diplomatic initiatives of EU and OIC countries who co-sponsored this proposal in the UNGA. Third, based on the composition of the countries who have changed their positions in favour of the Rohingyas and Bangladesh it may be argued that the Interim verdict of International Court of Justice against Myanmar is a powerful diplomatic instrument to influence countries from Africa on the question of moral and normative standpoint.
Another interesting aspect is that while nine African and the Pacific nations have changed their diplomatic positions in favour of the Rohingyas, four South Asia countries (Bhutan, India, Nepal and Sri Lanka) continue to support the Myanmar regime through their abstentions. It is important to ask why are these countries from South Asia have failed to show their true respect and commitment to humanitarian cause of the Rohingyas who are the most persecuted ethnic and religious community in the world. As part of the neighbouring region, this question becomes more pertinent because the continuing genocidal brutality against the Rohingyas and their forced displacement is a major source of instability in the regions South Asia and Southeast Asia.
The analysis of the diplomatic behaviours of these two sets of countries two factors may merit our attention. First, although South Asian countries suffered colonial exploitation, the history of liberation struggle in the region is less robust than that of African region. African countries suffered worst form of exploitation from the European colonial powers and most of these countries waged a long battle for their liberation and independence. It is possible for African nations to resonate with the struggle of the Rohingyas given their historical experiences. Second, South Asian countries have been under India’s hegemonic influence coincided with China’s similar diplomatic positions. There is no tendency of these countries to resist Indian or Chinese influence on the Rohingya crisis. Third, perhaps, Bhutan and Sri Lanka find it religiously justified not to antagonize an overwhelmingly Buddhist nationalist regime in Myanmar. Although it is a parochial demonstration of diplomatic behaviour, in the world of rising far right ideology and absence of strong normative framework one cannot be surprised. Finally, African nations are far from complex geopolitical game in the regions of Southeast Asia, South Asia, and the Bay of Bengal. Generally, the countries of Africa are also not strongly connected with Myanmar in their bilateral relations. Hence, Bangladesh has the opportunity to mobilise her diplomatic resources to garner the support of more African and the Pacific Island nations to the cause of the Rohingyas.
Finally, it is noteworthy that the adoption of the resolution on the 31st December 2020 is a significant progress in the diplomatic battle of Bangladesh and the global community engaged in upholding humanitarian support for the Rohingyas. The lesser number of abstentions and changes in the voting patterns of nine nations are positive developments. The resolution emphasised a number of measures Myanmar must take including citizenship for Rohingyas and creation of conductive environment for their repatriation. It has been reported that in recent days three important actors have also demonstrated changes in their perspectives on the Rohingya crisis. For example, India recently mentioned that they would engage with Myanmar at every level, including the highest level of the civilian government and the highest level of military establishment in the State of Rakhine, where they claimed to make their position clear. Japanese Ambassador Ito Naoki in Dhaka mentioned that they would communicate directly with Myanmar’s top military officials and at the government level on the Rohingya crisis as Japan sees it the proper channel to play a role. China is trying to work with Myanmar and Bangladesh to find a solution through tripartite discussion. As a result, it is critical for Bangladesh to continue and embolden the diplomatic momentum at the UN forum and beyond on the issue of the Rohingya crisis.