Foreign ministers of Muslim countries yesterday launched a campaign to mobilize international support for action against Myanmar over the Rohingya refugee crisis, officials said.
Foreign ministers and diplomats of the 53-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) set up a campaign committee during two days of talks in the Bangladeshi capital Dhaka. OIC secretary general Yousef bin Ahmed Al-Othaimeen called the move a key step toward ending a crisis caused by the exodus of about 700,000 Muslim Rohingya from Buddhist-majority Myanmar into camps in Bangladesh. He said the new committee would "mobilize and coordinate international political support for accountability for human rights violations against the Rohingya community."
"This is very important. This is one of the concrete steps that has been taken to alleviate the problem for our [Rohingya] brothers and sisters," he said.
A military campaign launched in Myanmar's Rakhine state in August last year set off the massive influx of the Muslim minority into Bangladesh where they joined 300,000 refugees already living in squalid camps following previous violence. The United Nations and United States have said the crackdown amounted to ethnic cleansing. The Myanmar army has said it only targeted militants.
Rohingya civilians have told of murders and rapes as they fled. They say the army burned hundreds of Rohingya villages to the ground. Al-Othaimeen said Muslim nations had to "pressure the international community. This is not religious, this is the basic human rights of our brothers and sisters in the last 50 years," he said.
The International Criminal Court prosecutor has already called for the tribunal to rule on whether it can investigate the allegations of mass rape and killings.
Bangladesh has put huge diplomatic effort into pressuring Myanmar to take back the refugees in safety. The two nations signed a repatriation deal in November, but nobody has since returned.
The Rohingya have been persecuted for decades in Myanmar, where they are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh and denied citizenship.
Last month, a U.N. Security Council delegation visiting the camps called for the safe return of the Rohingya and an end to discrimination against them. Canada's Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland also called for "accountability" when she toured the Rohingya camps this week. Bangladesh Foreign Minister A. H. Mahmood Ali said the OIC meeting had urged "strong action against the Myanmar government" on the Rohingya crisis.