The UN Security Council's forthcoming visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar appears to be an opportunity for both the countries to garner the high-powered body's support in favour of their respective strategies on the Rohingya issue.
The high profile visit is taking place hot on the heels of the United Nation's inability to take action against Myanmar for its alleged systematic Rohingya cleansing mainly due to the strong opposition from China and Russia.
Led by the UNSC president, the 15-member team will arrive in Bangladesh on Saturday afternoon. It will leave for Myanmar on Monday morning on another two-day visit.
The team members would include permanent representative of the UK and the deputy permanent representatives of the USA, Russia, France and China. These five countries are the permanent members of the council.
The other members would be permanent representatives from Bolivia, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, Kazakhstan, Kuwait, Netherlands, Peru, Poland, Sweden and deputy permanent representative from Ivory Coast. These are the 10 UNSC non-permanent members elected for a two-year term.
Peru is the current president of the council. Ivory Coast is sending the deputy permanent representative as the permanent representative from the country passed away recently.
“This is undoubtedly worth mentioning that the event will further draw the attention of the global community on Bangladesh and the Rohingya issue will get further importance," said noted diplomat and former Bangladesh ambassador to the United States Humayun Kabir, when asked about the significance of the visit.
He said the international community has already had its attention on Bangladesh and the ongoing Rohingya crisis but the council's visit will add a new dimension since the UNSC is the highest decision-making body of the UN. "If we can convince them and properly brief them, it will definitely have a huge positive impact. We must continue our efforts and follow up the visit for permanent solution to the crisis.”
As the highest decision-making body, the UNSC determines the existence of a threat to peace or act of aggression and recommends what action should be taken. It calls upon UN members to apply economic sanctions and other measures not involving the use of force to prevent or stop aggression. It can also take military action against an aggressor.
Another former diplomat, wishing not to be named, said, “This is a rare visit by the Security Council and it is undoubtedly the most important event in recent times. In my long diplomatic career, I can't remember whether any such visit has ever taken place in Bangladesh or around the region.”
However, the foreign minister and top government officials, including the foreign secretary and the director general (UN wing) of the foreign ministry, will not be in the country during the UNSC team's visit.
The three are scheduled to travel to Sydney as members of the entourage of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, who will leave for Australia this afternoon on a four-day visit to attend the 2018 Global Summit of Women.
Hasina and her delegation members are scheduled to return early Monday. Later at 9:30am that day, the UNSC team would pay a courtesy call on the PM at the Gono Bhaban and then leave for Myanmar.
Diplomatic circles in Dhaka expressed surprise to learn that the top Bangladeshi diplomats will remain absent during the “rare and unprecedented” visit by a full UNSC team.
Md Shahriar Alam, state minister for foreign affairs, and Rear Admiral (retd) Khurshid Alam, a secretary at the ministry, will receive the delegation members at Cox's Bazar.
Director General (South East Asia Wing) at Ministry of Foreign Affairs Tareque Muhammad, who coordinates the Rohingya issue, will accompany the UNSC team and brief its members about the entire Rohingya situation, government policy and efforts towards their repatriation, said ministry officials.
The state minister would host a reception in honour of the UN team at 7:30pm at Radisson Blu Dhaka Water Garden Hotel on Sunday, the officials said, adding that Dhaka will urge the UNSC team to act right now.
Talking to The Daily Star yesterday, a number of foreign ministry officials said they have compiled various documents and reports, released by the UN and other renowned international organisations, human rights bodies, national and international media outlets, to hand those over to the UNSC team for its better understanding of the Rohingya crisis.
“We already had distributed all the necessary documents, including reports, government papers and refugee strategies-related documents, among all permanent representatives of the UNSC at the UN headquarters," said a senior official at the ministry.
"We also regularly apprised them of the updates. Apart from briefings, our diplomatic missions abroad also regularly provide documents on the Rohingya situation to the foreign ministries in their respective countries,” he said.
Contacted, Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commissioner Abul Kalam yesterday said the delegation would visit the refugee camps in Kutupalong and interact with the Rohingyas to learn about the atrocities they faced in Rakhine.
"Then, on behalf of the government, I will brief them about the overall Rohingya situation here,” said Kalam. “We want the delegation to see and listen to the Rohingya refugees.”
The UNSC had first proposed a visit to Myanmar in February. But the Myanmar government did not give consent to it saying it was “not the right time” for the trip.
On Monday, the Irrawaddy, a news website run by Myanmar nationals exiled in Thailand, reported that the country gave consent to the visit early this month on the advice of China and Russia.
Facing global condemnations for “atrocity crimes” against Rohingyas, Myanmar sees the visit as an "effective method" to reduce international criticism. The Myanmar government officials are preparing to explain what they have been doing to repatriate Rohingyas. They will also clarify the details of arrangements for the repatriation, according to the report.
"The [Myanmar] government invited them as a form of cooperation with the United Nations. We have sent our invitation through the permanent representative of Myanmar at the UN,” U Myint Thu, permanent secretary of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, told the Irrawaddy.
During the visit, the UNSC team will meet the de facto leader of Myanmar and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the chairperson of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine (UEHRD) and officials in Naypyidaw. On the second day, the team may visit Rakhine State.
“Inviting an important international body is an effective method. It might produce good outcomes as well as bad ones. Those who are responsible for tackling the problem should be prepared,” said Daw Pyone Kay Thi Naing, a member of the Lower House international relations committee.
Chief Minister of Rakhine State U Nyi Pu said his government has arranged transportation and security for the delegates, added the report.
Myanmar's own version of the repatriation is tricky. It has all along been blaming Bangladesh for inking the repatriation treaty and delaying the beginning of the repatriation though it itself had imposed some strict criteria in the treaty which made the repatriation difficult.
Even, taking back a family from a no-man's land recently, Myanmar publicised in the global media that it began the repartition process. Bangladesh was not aware of taking back of the family in the dark of the night.
THE CRISIS , THE UN ROLE
Nearly 700,000 Rohingyas fled Myanmar military's violent crackdown on them since August 25 last year, while more than 300,000 others, who crossed over from Myanmar in the previous years, were already staying in Bangladesh, posing a major humanitarian challenge for the country.
This time around the Rohingya crisis unfolded before the world and the UN as well. Weeks after the crackdown began, UN Secretary General António Guterres repeatedly appealed to Myanmar to end the violence against the Rohingyas. Amid a global outcry, the Security Council urged Myanmar to stop the violence. The UN human rights chief lashed out at the treatment of Rohingyas and described the situation as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing." But nothing could stop Myanmar.
The UN could not take any action against the country due to a deep division in the Security Council as two of its permanent members -- China accompanied by Russia -- opposed the move for their economic interest in Myanmar.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), who is expected to attend a meeting in Dhaka, will travel to Cox's Bazar on May 4 to get a first-hand look at the Rohingya refugee camps.
Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, who will attend the 45th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers on May 5-6 as a special guest, will also visit the Rohingya camps, said Bangladesh foreign ministry officials.