In an unusually forceful statement, the world’s top Islamic intergovernmental body condemned Myanmar’s military for targeting Rohingya Muslims in “systematic” ethnic cleansing, and called on member-states to mobilize to exert pressure on Naypyidaw over this.
The Organization of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) Council of Foreign Ministers also agreed to form a special committee to handle allegations of human rights violations carried out against Myanmar’s ethnic Rohingya minority, according to the so-called Dhaka Declaration issued at the end of a two-day meeting hosted by Bangladesh’s government.
“We express deep concern over the recent systematic brutal acts perpetrated by security forces against the Rohingya Muslim Community in Myanmar that has reached the level of ethnic cleansing, which constitute a serious and blatant violation of international law,” the 57-member OIC said Sunday in its declaration from the Bangladeshi capital that touched on a wide range of international issues affecting the Muslim world.
Among alleged atrocities committed against Rohinyga people in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, the declaration pointed to the deliberate burning of Rohingya villages and places of worship that had helped drive hundreds of thousands of people across the border into Bangladesh.
The declaration appeared to mark the first time that the OIC qualified the scale of alleged atrocities in Rakhine as “ethnic cleansing.” Months ago, at the height an unprecedented exodus of Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh, both the United Nations and United States had described the situation in Rakhine in those stark words.
The OIC foreign ministers also praised host nation Bangladesh for having taken in about 1 million Rohingya refugees at its southeastern doorstep. Since late August 2017 alone, according to latest figures from the U.N., around 687,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh as they fled a brutal military crackdown that followed attacks carried out on police and army outposts in Rakhine by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army rebels.
In a speech to the council on Sunday, OIC Secretary General Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen called for supporting Bangladesh in overcoming the “critical stage of this unprecedented tragedy unfolding on its borders.”
“We express our appreciation to the Member States who have taken immediate action and delivered humanitarian aid to the camps in Bangladesh and further call for more assistance from all the Member States to enable Bangladesh cope with the flow of forcibly displaced Rohingyas from Myanmar into its territories,” the OIC declaration said.
The OIC meeting in Dhaka took place after OIC delegates traveled to southeastern Cox’s Bazar district on Friday to visit Kutupalong, the largest or refugee camps housing Rohingya in Bangladesh.
International support sought
In calling for strong International support to solve the cross-border humanitarian crisis, the declaration urged OIC states to stay engaged in U.N. efforts to address alleged rights violations that have taken place in Rakhine, and to support the full implementation of recommendations made last year by an advisory commission on Rakhine state headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.
Among other measures, the Annan Commission recommended that Myanmar finally grant citizenship to the stateless Rohingya minority.
The OIC said its member states also agreed to set up an ad hoc ministerial committee to examine allegations of rights violations against the Rohingya.
While they applauded the OIC’s stated intention to reach out to the Rohingya, some Bangladeshi analysts cast doubt Monday on whether the world body could effectively pressure Myanmar, a Buddhist-majority country, over the issue.
“OIC is not such an organization that can create pressure on Myanmar, but they can work with the U.N. and some other countries to raise a global voice on the Rohingya issue,” Delwar Hossain, a professor of international relations at Dhaka University told BenarNews.
A top OIC official, meanwhile, acknowledged that the Muslim world’s leading intergovernmental body had been slow to respond to the crisis affecting one of its most persecuted communities.
The OIC regretted “not responding immediately” to the situation, the Al Jazeera news network quoted OIC Assistant Secretary-General Hesham Youseff as saying.
“We will [now] play a strong role along with Bangladesh, the United Nations and the international community,” he said Sunday.
Jesmin Papri in Dhaka contributed to this report.