MonitorsPublished on Sep 24, 2019
South Asia Weekly Report | Volume XII; Issue 38

Bangladesh: Concerns still over Rohingya repatriation

Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Sounding pessimistic in Parliament, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina accused Myanmar for the failure of the repatriation of Rohingya refugees. Her accusation came after the second repatriation attempt, which had begun in August this year, too failed. In November last year too, there was an attempt to repatriate the refugees after Myanmar singned an agreement with Bangladesh to take back the Rohingyas. As earlier, Rohingyas, staying in refugee camps, refused to go back because of lack of assurances of safety from Myanmar.

Prime Minister Hasina told the Parliament that it was the failure of the Myanmar authorities to convince the refugees about their safety on return in the Rakhine state that prevented the repatriation process. Her observations highlight the growing frustration and despair in the country about a possible solution.

For PM Hasina’s government, repatriation of the Rohingyas is a priority and she has been asking the international community for help.  The reason for Bangladesh’s concern was the fact that Myanmar does not recognise Rohingyas as its citizens. Instead, Rohingyas are considered as illegal migrants from Bangladesh. Rohingyas are an ethno-religious community residing in the Rakhine state of Myanmar.

The Rohingyas have linguistic similarity with the dialects of the Chittagong region in southern Bangladesh. They have been facing persecution in Myanmar and there has been an influx of them into Bangladesh on repeated intervals beginning from the 1980s. The largest flow of refugees came in August 2017.  Presently, one million Rohingya refugees are estimated to be living in Bangladesh.

In August 2017, around 6,00,000 Rohingyas fled to Bangladesh after the Myanmar security forces undertook massive crackdown in the Rakhine province in response to an incident of attack on its camps by an armed group from the community. Given the previous experience, Bangladesh was reluctant to accept the refugees initially. Nevertheless, Bangladesh changed its stance due to humanitarian concerns as hundreds and thousands of the refugees were waiting at its border.

International pressure

Following pressure from the international community, Myanmar signed a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh for repatriation in January 2018.  Until date, repatriation of the Rohingyas was attempted twice but failed on both occasions. In July, a delegation from Myanmar visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh as a preparatory to the return of the refuges.

Myanmar repeatedly claimed that all necessary arrangement have been made to take back the Rohingyas. Accordingly, Bangladesh handed over a list of refugees to Myanmar. The Myanmar government approved more than 3,000 Rohingyas to be brought back to the country. As is known, 22 August was the designated date for the commencement of the repatriation process. Surprisingly, none of the refugees turned up on the designated date, as they feared for their safety.

Bangladesh has been arguing for a safe, sustainable and voluntary return of the refugees. It has also been advocating for a long-term peaceful solution of the Rohingyas.

The delay in the return of the Rohingyas is giving rise to a feeling of anguish in Bangladesh. The government feels the country has done enough and it cannot help the Rohingyas further. Moreover, the international assistance is also drying up and there are not many resources available at the disposal for relief and assistance.

Security threat

The lingering problem of the refugees could lead to security threats for Bangladesh, and impact the stability of country as well as the region. Since significant number of the refugees are young and unemployed, they are easy prey for radicalisation. There have also been instances were Rohingya youth were targeted by the radical groups for recruitment.

Further, there have been concerns about the involvement of the refugees in crimes like smuggling of arms, drugs and human trafficking. Given the rise in the crimes in the camps, the Bangladesh government had to increase the presence of the police in the areas where the camps are located.

The shift of the demography is a concern. The demography has already altered in the Taknaf and Bandarbanin coastal Bangladesh where the refugee camps are primarily located. There is fear of refugees’ assimilation with the local population, which will make identification difficult. As opportunities are drying up in Bangladesh, the Rohingyas are becoming increasingly vulnerable to human-trafficking, as they would try to move to other places for a secure future.

As a remedial measure, Bangladesh has provided identity cards to the refugees so that there could proper documentation. Besides, to prevent assimilation, the refugees are taught only in English and Burman languages. There are also plans to relocate few of the refugees in an island in the Bay of Bengal, a decision contested by rights groups.

At present, the Rohingya issue seems  to have no easy solution. Given Bangladesh’s concerns, the international community should come together in finding a way forward.

Myanmar: Suu Kyi as a beacon of democracy: real or imagery?

Sreeparna Banerjee 

On 17 September, United Nations investigators called for an expert evaluation of whether Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi can be legally implicated in alleged abuses committed against the country's Rohingya minority. This came after the fact-finding mission to Myanmar, set up by the UN Human Rights Council, stated that they were not equipped to determine what level of responsibility Suu Kyi should shoulder for the Rakhine crisis.

Recently, the Human Rights Council created a panel to prepare criminal indictments over alleged abuses committed in the country. The so-called Independent International Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) could have the expertise to determine what responsibility Suu Kyi bears in the crisis. A UN human rights expert has implored Aung San Suu Kyi to ‘feel with her heart before it is too late’, saying that even if refugees wished to return, they have little to go back to.

Following the victory of the National League for Democracy (NLD) in the 2015 elections, Aung San Suu Kyi was appointed the state counsellor, the equivalent of a President and Prime Minister, both rolled into one, though other leaders filled those posts. The global expectations placed on her were unrealistically high. It was hoped that the NLD’s victory in the polls will bring about the much awaited transition from a totalitarian to a democratic government.

But in reality, the military continues to play prominent role, both in their stances and actions. It was thought that Aung San Suu Kyi would move in the areas she could with a parliamentary majority: things like releasing political prisoners, repealing repressive laws, creating a free press, trying to improve the economy as well as environmental issues. But such issues have remained unaddressed. Thus, the state counsellor’s extraordinary fall in front of the western world has been quite emphatic. With the elections now scheduled in 2020,  how far does it is going to affect the domestic affair?

Loss of face

Domestically too, Aung San Suu Kyi is facing growing criticism for stalled economic and political reforms, glacial progress on policy and service improvements, and the suppression of freedom of expression and press.

The arrest of the journalists who had reported on the 2017 massacre of Rohingya Muslims by security forces, which resulted in the eventual conviction of seven soldiers for murder, brought about vociferous condemnation. It was worth noting that it was Suu Kyi’s civilian government that prosecuted the journalists, not the military. Suu Kyi could have ordered the charges dropped, as she did for student protesters during her early days in office. Instead, she even once allegedly referred to them as “traitors”.

In addition, though the government facilitated the investigation committee sent by the UN, it has, however, consistently defended the military action against the Rohingya and repeatedly pointed to a lack of understanding of the complexities of the situation.

Govt’s powerlessness

The military remains a very powerful force in Myanmar. It has the power to appoint its own personnel to a quarter of the seats in parliament and also oversees the three powerful ministries of Home Affairs, Defence and Border Affairs.

The government has no power to hold the military accountable for actions against the Rohingyas. Suu Kyi is, therefore, in a very weak position. She has stressed that her government’s aim of removing the military from politics would eventually be achieved through negotiation, keeping in mind the need for national reconciliation.

Suu Kyi also has no means to compel the military to cooperate with international investigators. Besides, her dream of constitutional reform depends entirely on the military approval. The recent conflict in that arena may be difficult to sway. But as already been mentioned it is her international reputation that is most in tatters.

Honour “less”

Suu Kyi has been stripped of many of her international accolades. In the latest move to quash honours, the City of London Corporation in the United Kingdom has suspended its 2017 honorary freedom award. Last November, Amnesty International revoked its most prestigious human rights prize, and the Canadian parliament stripped her honorary citizenship in September 2018.

In March last year, the US Holocaust Memorial Museum rescinded its top human rights award, which was granted in 2012. The freedom of the cities of Dublin, Oxford and Edinburgh were withdrawn amid accusations that she failed to intervene in the Rohingya crisis. Her portrait was even removed from St. Hugh’s College at Oxford University, where she studied politics, philosophy and economics between 1964 and 1967. The portrait was first put on display in 1999. Critics have also called for the withdrawal of her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize but the foundation that oversees the award said last year that the rules regulating Nobel prizes did not allow for withdrawal.

There have been a lot of sanctions placed on the nation. Following the clampdown against the Rohingya minority, the EU threatened to stop Myanmar's trading privileges. Recently, the US imposed travel sanctions on Myanmar’s military chief Min Aung Hlaing and other top generals, stating there has been no progress in holding the military accountable for what the western world calls ethnic cleansing. Following this, the second repatriation effort was made to bring back the Rohingyas which yet again failed. Meanwhile, legal experts are debating whether her refusal to denounce the human rights violations on the Rohingyas implicates her in the ethnic cleansing.

Nevertheless, in this entire chaos, she is continuously being backed by many of her supporters in Myanmar. Government officials say that international reactions are unlikely to affect the domestic support for the NLD. In the face of no suitable opposition, the fate of the forthcoming elections appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Country Reports


Reminder for fair elections

Ahead of the Presidential elections scheduled to be held in Afghanistan from 28 September, the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has issued a statement. He reminds the Afghan government and the electoral institutions that the international donors have repeatedly requested for a credible and transparent presidential election. Furthermore Pompeo stated that the Afghan voters are really risking their lives to participate in the elections and therefore deserve to be assured that their choices would be accurately represented.

Karzai  for peace talks

Former President of Afghanistan, Hamid Karzai, has called on the US government to resume peace talks with the Taliban so as to end the ongoing violence. He added the Taliban must know that the only way they can rule the country is by engaging in direct talks with the US. This comes as the US President recently commented that Taliban have “made a big mistake, and they have no idea how to recover.”


Repatriation fails again

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina have blamed Myanmar for the delay in the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. The Prime Minister alleged that Myanmar was dragging its feet on resolving the Rohingya crisis despite signing a bilateral agreement with Bangladesh in this respect. The repatriation attempt has failed twice. Explaining the reason for the failure, the Prime Minister observed that Myanmar could not win Rohingyas’ trust in creating a conducive situation for their dignified return. On August 2017, around 700000 Rohingyas, native of the Rakhine province of Myanmar, fled to Bangladesh following persecutions by the security forces of Myanmar. Since then, Rohingyas are living in refugees camps in Bangladesh.

BRI for trade and infrastructure

Experts feel that the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) by China is an opportunity for Bangladesh to improve its infrastructure, increase investment and trade, and enhance connectivity with countries in South Asia. However, they have expressed concern over the likely debt trap and environmental damages. They suggest that the country should negotiate the terms of the loans to enjoy the benefits of the BRI optimally. These views were expressed at an international conference on the BRI and the interests of Bangladesh, organised by the Dhaka based think tank, Centre for Policy Dialogue (CPD).


Hydro project temporarily shut

The first unit of the 720MW Mangdechhu Hydroelectric Project Authority (MHPA) in Trongsa has temporarily been shut since September 7. The management said that one of the components inside the turbine, the ‘throw ring’, needed modification to minimise the spillage or leakage of oil, which lubricates to spin the turbines smoothly. These works are expected to be completed on or before 22 September. The first unit began the commercial operation from June 28.

On track, to SDGs

Bhutan is on the path  to achieving the SDG goals, said Prime Minister Lotay Tshering. His statement came after the global sustainable development report 2019 (GSDR) pointed towards the unsustainable model of development and implementation of SDGs 2030 in the world. According to him, the implementation of SDGs in Bhutan was synonymous to Bhutan’s development principle of Gross National Happiness (GNH). According to the 17 SDGs, the country has identified 17 National Key Result Areas.


Tax-cuts to boost economy

Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman declared that the corporate tax rates have been slashed to 22 percent for domestic companies and 15 percent for new domestic manufacturing companies and other fiscal reliefs. The Prime Minister has hailed the move as “historic” and RBI Governor Shaktikanta Das has called it a “bold” move. The move has drawn appreciation from stock market and industry.

Social security draft

The central government has proposed a new draft Code on Social Security that consists of eight laws which are covering Employees’ Provident Fund, maternity benefits and compensation among others which would facilitate establishing funds for PF and pension as well as covering vulnerable workers in social security schemes. The Labour and Employment Ministry published the draft code this week and will be taken up for public comments till 25 October 2019.


One killed, 400 displaced

A 46-year-old woman was killed, nine others injured and 400 displaced when sudden fire broke out in a chemical warehouse in capital Male. While defence services personnel helped put out the fire and save at least five persons, the Maldives Disaster Management Authority has set up relief camps for those rendered homeless. In the aftermath of the incident, the government has also initiated moves to regulate warehouses and relocate them away from populated areas.


Joint border scrutiny

China and Myanmar have agreed to resume joint inspections of their common border for the first time in 24 years. According to U Kyaw Tin, Minister of International Cooperation, the agreement calls for aerial photos, a field study, amending border posts, drawing maps and signing a protocol. He even notified that the government is negotiating similar agreements to resolve border issues with Thailand, India and Laos.

Checking illegal trade

Illegal trade results in a loss of tax revenues for the government and hinders development of local businesses and the economy.  Myanmar has decided to  take strict action against illegal trade with the aim of substantially reducing the volume of fake or illegal products entering the market. Among the actions taken so far is the drafting of a system to control the flow of goods via sea, including inspection of containers, establishing a secure lock system and building high security warehouses to store goods in transit.


Celebrating Constitution Day

20 September was celebrated as the Constitution Day in the country with full gusto and enthusiasm. Four years back, Nepal had embarked upon the journey of democracy. A special ceremony has also been organised at the Nepal Army Pavilion. This event is a reminder that the country is progressing with each passing day.

Subsidy at Kolkata port

Nepal and India have moved one more step towards strengthening their economic relations. The Nepali cargo has received 84.33 per cent subsidy from the Indian Customs office at the Kolkata port. Given Nepal’s land-locked nature and dependence on the port facilities of Kolkata, this comes across as a remarkable move for Nepal. This will bring down the cost of insurance for the Nepali importers.


Saudis briefed on ‘K-issue’

According to a statement released by the Pakistan Prime Minister’s Office, Imran Khan has apprised the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman of the situation in Kashmir and the apparent ‘tyranny’ of the Indian government. The Prime Minister also condemned the recent attacks on Aramaco’s oil facility in Saudi Arabia. Both statesmen held further discussions on ways to strengthen economic ties between the two countries. This comes as Prime Minister Khan is in Jeddah on an official visit.

Upset over talks failure

Speaking on the sudden cancellation of the peace talks between US and the Taliban, the Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan has expressed his surprise. He deems the development to be tragic as both parties were close to signing the peace agreement. It is especially disappointing because Pakistan had been a major facilitator throughout the process. Khan thus promised to clarify the issue with the US President Donald Trump at the upcoming interaction between the two heads of state.

Sri Lanka

Presidential polls on Nov 16

The Election Commission has announced the presidential polls for Sunday, 16 November. Indications are that the counting of votes would be taken up soon thereafter. Though incumbent Maithripala Sirisena’s term does not end before 9 January 2020, going by precedents, it is not unlikely that new President would take over soon after the EC announces the official results.

Executive Presidency stays

A last-minute attempt, purportedly by President Maithripala Sirisena and Prime Minister Ranil Wickremesinghe, to have the Executive Presidency abolished, failed to gather muster at an emergency Special Cabinet meeting. With Wickremesinghe’s UNP ministers backing Housing Minister Sajith Premadasa’s quest for UNP presidential candidate standing firm, it is now clear that the current governance system will stay until after a new President takes over, post-poll and parliamentary polls, due by mid-August 2020 but could get advanced. After the failure at the Cabinet meeting, both Sirisena and Wickremesinghe have launched a blame-game campaign, saying it was the other who had wanted it, to discuss the abolition of Executive Presidency.



Opinion Pieces

Lara Jakes, “U.S. Cuts $100 Million in Aid to Afghanistan, Citing Government Corruption”, The New York Times, 19 September 2019

Naser Kosan, “What Is Next in The Pipeline for The Afghan Peace Initiative”, Daily Outlook Afghanistan, 19 September 2019


Daily Outlook Afghanistan, “Regional Stakeholders Should Play Positive Role in Peace Process”, 19 September 2019

Afghanistan Times, “Muscle flexing from NUG leaders”, 14 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

Shreya Mishra, “India-Bhutan relations entering the digital age”,, 19 September 2019


Kuensel, “Promoting the national language”, 14 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

Prashant Bhusan & Cheryl D’souza, “Conduct of Foreigners Tribunal in Assam in questionable”, The Indian Express, 20 September 2019

Ashok Bansal, “Looking RCEP should be seen as an extension of New Delhi’s Look East Policy”, The Indian Express, 20 September 2019

Nirupama Subramaniam, “India’s actions over the status of J&K provide an opportunity to revisit four-point plan for Kashmir”, The Indian Express, 19 September 2019


The Indian Express, “Taxing Times”, 20 September 2019

The Hindu,” Undesirable and divisive: On Amit Shah’s push for Hindi”, 17 September 2019

The Hindu, “Effort worth emulation: On Rajasthan’s public information portal”, 16 September 2019

The Hindu, “Waiting for reforms: On the economic stimuli”, 16 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

Nyein Nyein, “Karen Martyrs’ Day Case Shows Ethnic Rights in Retreat Under Present Myanmar Govt”, The Irrawaddy, 19 September 2019

Kyaw Phyo Tha, “Details Scarce on Funding, Planning for Flood Prevention at New Yangon City Project”, The Irrawaddy, 18 September 2019

Jenny Hedström, “Women Writing on Myanmar: There’s a Problem With How We Study Burma”, The Irrawaddy, 18 September 2019

Aung Zaw, “In New Charm Offensive, Myanmar’s Military Chief Shows Political Skills”, The Irrawaddy, 17 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

Madhav Sharma, “Nepal and China should use BRI to spread prosperity and happiness”, Republica, 19 September 2019

Jivesh Jha, “Our constitution is one of the most progressive documents”, Republica, 18 September 2019


The Kathmandu Post, “Kathmandu has been declared open defecation-free, maybe prematurely”, 19 November 2019

The Himalayan Times, “Oil from pipeline”, 12 September 2019


Opinion Pieces

Khurram Husain, “The new media monitoring cell”, Dawn, 19 September 2019

Ajaz Haque, “Karachi: a second Federal Capital Territory?”, The Express Tribune, 18 September 2019


The Express Tribune, “Kashmir in EU Parliament”, 19 September 2019

Dawn, “The economy in focus”, 17 September 2019

Sri Lanka

Opinion Pieces

Rajeewa Jayaweera, “Sri Lanka forgetting old friends”, The Island, 22 September 2019

Rajan Philips, “A new cast of presidential candidates and the long shadows of 2015”, The Island, 22 September 2019

Kusal Perera, “Crisis beyond 9/16 and importance of JVP”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 September 2019

M S M Ayub, ‘Enter Karu Jayasuriya, and UNP’s crisis deepens”, Daily Mirror Online, 20 September 2019

Winston de Valliere, “Will Sajith break 45 days to go”, Ceylon Today, 20 September 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Propriety, thy name is what?”, Ceylon Today, 17 September 2019

Jehan Perera, “Abolishing Executive Presidency is not a viable electoral strategy”, The Island, 17 September 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Sri Lanka: ‘Joint patrol post’, permanent solution to ‘Katchchativu issue’?”, 17 September 2019

Harim Peiris, “SLFP crafting a third way”, The Island, 16 September 2019

N Sathiya Moorthy, “Whose league-match is the TNA playing now?’, Colombo Gazette, 16 September 2019


Afghanistan & Pakistan: Sohini Bose

Bangladesh: Joyeeta Bhattacharjee

Bhutan: Mihir Bhonsale

India: Ambar Kumar Ghosh

Maldives & Sri Lanka: N Sathiya Moorthy

Myanmar: Sreeparna Banerjee

Nepal: Sohini Nayak

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