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Rohingya crisis: International advisor steps

down as Asean lawmakers urge action

By Max Walden | 26th January 2018

A Myanmar policeman stands outside of a camp set up by Myanmar's Social


Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Minister to prepare for the repatriation of
displaced Rohingyas, who fled to Bangladesh, outside Maungdaw in the state of
Rakhine, Myanmar January 24, 2018. Source: Reuters

FORMER US Governor Bill Richardson has stepped down from the Advisory Board
on Rakhine State, stating that he is worried it will simply become a “cheerleading
squad for government policy” as Burma (Myanmar) responds to the Rohingya
crisis.
Having been a friend of the Nobel laureate for decades, Richardson said in a
statement on Wednesday that he had been “taken aback” by how strongly the
media, United Nations and the international community generally were
“disparaged” in the Advisory Board’s first meetings with the country’s de facto
leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week.
“I was one of the first westerners to visit her while she was under house arrest
and have helped to free political prisoners and supported Myanmar’s transition to
democracy,” Richardson wrote. “In the wake of ARSA attacks, the absence of Daw
Suu’s moral leadership on this critical issue is of great concern.”

Former New Mexico governor Bill Richardson pauses during an interview with
Reuters as a member of an international advisory board on the crisis of Rakhine
state in Yangon, Myanmar January 24, 2018. Source: Reuters/Ann Wang
SEE ALSO: Repatriation of Rohingya to Rakhine State postponed
The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) attacked Burmese security force
outposts on Aug 25, 2017, provoking so-called “clearing operations” across the
Rakhine by the Tatmadaw army which have led to almost 700,000 refugees
fleeing into Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.
The Advisory Board is tasked with overseeing the implementation of
recommendations from a commission led by former UN Secretary General Kofi
Annan, which include extending citizenship rights, freedom of movement and
equality before the law to Rohingya Muslims.
Amnesty International has described the Rakhine State as an “open-air prison” for
Rohingyas.

Suu Kyi’s office responded on Thursday, claiming that Richardson had been asked
to stand down because he was using the position to “pursue his own agenda”.
A spokesman for Richardson denied the claim, telling Reuters that the situation
was “quite the opposite, their National Security Advisor stopped by the night
before to convince the Governor to stay as planned.”

Chairman of the body Dr Surakiart Sathirathai was “not genuinely committed” to


implementing the Annan Report, said Richardson, and had “parroted the
dangerous and untrue notion that international NGOs employ radicals and that
humanitarian agencies are providing support for ARSA.”

Richardson added he was “extremely upset” with Suu Kyi’s response to the
arrests of two Reuters journalists who had been covering the Rohingya crisis
and face 14 years’ imprisonment under Burma’s colonial-era Official Secrets Act.

SEE ALSO: Reuters journalists face 14 years’ jail after being formally charged in
Burma
Rohingya refugee children walk in Palong Khali camp, near Cox’s Bazar,
Bangladesh January 14, 2018. Source: Reuters/Tyrone Siu
Southeast Asian lawmakers visit Cox’s Bazar

After completing a fact-finding mission to Bangladesh, meanwhile, members of


Asean Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) have called upon Southeast
Asian governments to take greater action to resolve the Rohingya crisis.

“Where is Asean? This is the question we kept hearing from everyone we met,”
said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament
who headed the delegation.
“We therefore call on Asean to convene an urgent meeting of foreign ministers of
all members states to discuss the crisis and establish a plan of action to resolve
it,” he said.

Singapore parliamentarian Louis Ng said: “the stories we heard directly from


Rohingya refugees were heartbreaking, from parents who witnessed their
children killed to children scarred physically and emotionally by brutal violence.”

Asean lawmakers receive a briefing at Kutupalong Transit Centre, Cox’s Bazar,


Bangladesh on 22 January 2018. From left: Rachada Dhnadirek (former MP,
Thailand), Lena Maryana Mukti (former MP, Indonesia), Louis Ng (MP, Singapore)
and Charles Santiago (MP, Malaysia). Source: Asean Parliamentarians for Human
Rights/Supplied

SEE ALSO: Indonesia positions itself as diplomatic actor in Rohingya crisis, but to
what effect?

“Asean countries must stop using the non-interference principle as an excuse for
inaction,” former Thai lawmaker Rachada Dhnadirek said. “Financial commitment
to support humanitarian assistance is critical, but it must be accompanied by
pressure on the Myanmar military to end persecution that lies at the root of the
crisis.”

The Muslim majority states of Indonesia and Malaysia have been most vocal on
the issue, with Putrajaya distancing itself from an Asean statement on the crisis as
a “misrepresentation of the reality of the situation” last September.

Earlier this week, slated repatriation of Rohingya refugees was delayed – a


development welcomed by APHR. “The Rohingya refugees we spoke with were
clear: They want to return to their homeland, but only if their conditions are
met,” said Santiago.

“These include citizenship, justice, compensation, and security guarantees. In any


discussions of possible repatriation, these and other demands of the refugees
must be heeded.”
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