UN Security Council Visits Rohingya Refugee Camps in Bangladesh

“We are not closing our eyes” but there is “no magic solution,” Russian diplomat says.

Members of a U.N. Security Council delegation talk with Rohingya refugees during a visit to Tombru, in southeastern Bangladesh’s Bandarban district, April 29, 2018.

A U.N. Security Council delegation paid an unprecedented visit Sunday to Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, with diplomats saying they wanted to get a close look at a “still dire” situation affecting some 1 million people who had fled violence in Myanmar.

But a delegate representing Russia, one of the council’s five permanent members with power to veto resolutions by the world’s top international peace and security body, said there was “no magic stick” for solving the cross-border humanitarian crisis.

The 24-strong delegation representing all five permanent members and 10 non-permanent members of the council (UNSC) visited refugees camped out in a no-man’s land along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border and later stopped by the sprawling Kutupalong refugee camp in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district, where Rohingya staged a loud and emotional demonstration.

The delegates were scheduled to travel to Myanmar from Dhaka on Monday for meetings with government officials and an expected tour of violence-scarred Rakhine state, the home of the stateless Rohingya.

“Of course, we will discuss this situation, but we will try to find the best possible solutions. And it’s very necessary for us to come and see everything … here in Bangladesh and in Myanmar,” Dmitry Polyanskiy, the first deputy at Russia’s mission to the United Nations, told a news conference at Kutupalong.

“But there is no magic solution, there is no magic stick to solve all these issues.”

His country and China – another veto-empowered council member – have bilateral and military ties with Naypyidaw.

“We are not looking away from this crisis. We are not closing our eyes. That’s why we are here. Otherwise we would not have come,” Polyanskiy said, according to a recording of the news conference.

“The issue is still, for us, to promote bilateral ways to resolve this issue. We will try to convince both governments – the government of Bangladesh and the government of Myanmar – to engage in constructive negotiations. And here, we will have to do our best to discuss this issue and find solutions in the Security Council,” he also said.

Haito Wu, China’s deputy representative to the U.N., was among the delegates.

“This is a very complicated issue … we need to work together to address this issue,” he told reporters, stressing that the violence in Rakhine first had to stop.

Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, the Peruvian ambassador to the U.N., led the delegation.

“We are here to learn more about the situation in order to see what we can do,” he told reporters.

“The situation is still dire and difficult [for] the refugees,” he said.

‘We want justice’

As a convoy carrying the delegates rolled into the camp, hundreds of Rohingya refugees lined the road and held up signs, which bore messages including “welcome UNSC delegation” and “we want justice.” The crowd broke into loud chants as the delegates got out. According to an account by Agence France-Presse some of the refugees broke down into tears as they told the ambassadors about cases of rape and murder allegedly committed on the Myanmar side of the border.

Leaders from the refugee community also handed the delegation a 13-point list of demands for repatriation to Myanmar.

According to a copy seen by BenarNews, these included a demand for “an international security presence in Arakan (Rakhine) to keep us safe”; full citizenship for their people and official recognition of their Rohingya ethnicity; the right of Rohingya to return to “our original land, village and family compound”; as well as to hold Myanmar military members and others accountable for abuses and crimes committed against Rohingya.

In November, Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed on a bilateral deal to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya. But the process has not yet begun and U.N. officials have expressed misgivings on whether the climate is safe enough for the refugees to return to Rakhine.

“We are standing here to demand justice as they (the Myanmar military) have killed our men and tortured our women so much, so we are compelled to seek justice for those abuses,” Sajida Begum, a Rohingya refugee who was in the crowd Sunday, told Reuters.

The Security Council, meanwhile, has yet to vote on an official resolution to exert international pressure on Myanmar, although the United Nations and United States – another permanent UNSC member – both branded a brutal military crackdown in Rakhine state that drove nearly 700,000 Rohingya to seek shelter in neighboring Bangladesh since last August as “ethnic cleansing.”

Last November, however, the council issued a statement condemning the violence in Rakhine.

The lack of a UNSC resolution to bring sanctions or an arms embargo against Myanmar over its treatment of the Rohingya has drawn much criticism, including from New York-based Human Rights Watch.

“The lack of a U.N. Security Council resolution has left the Myanmar government convinced that it has literally gotten away with mass murder,” Kenneth Roth, the rights watchdog’s executive director, told reporters in Yangon on Friday as he called on the United Nations to refer the Rohingya crisis the International Criminal Court.

The delegation from the Security Council arrived in Cox’s Bazar on Saturday evening and was due to meet with Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina in Dhaka on Monday morning, before going to Myanmar.

The UNSC delegates were scheduled to meet there with State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who has been widely criticized over the crackdown in Rakhine against the stateless Rohingya. The council delegates were also expected to travel on to Rakhine to inspect conditions there. Government security forces have been accused of targeting Rohingya in mass atrocities, including killings, rape and the burning of their villages.

Myanmar officials have denied the allegations and blamed Arakan Rohingya Salavation Army (ARSA) insurgents for provoking the crackdown by launching coordinated attacks on police and army outposts in Rakhine in late August.

The visit to Myanmar will be very important, Yan Myo Thein, a political analyst told RFA's Myanmar Service.

“Myanmar authorities can try to have [the international community’s] trust and value again during this visit,” he said.

“The important thing is both the government and military need to meet the U.N. Security Council and take enough time to talk … about Myanmar issues. Also, it is important for Myanmar to allow the U.N. Security Council to meet any person or organization freely.”

Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.