Balancing its strategic interests in the region, India has yet again abstained from voting on a UN General Assembly resolution on the ‘Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar’ focusing on the plight of Rohingya Muslims when it was taken up for approval by a committee for adoption on Friday.
The resolution, among other things, takes note of the “the continued serious violations and abuses of human rights of Rohingya Muslims” and expresses concern over the “targeted violence against Rohingya Muslims and others in Rakhine State”.
India was among the 26 countries that abstained while 142 voted in its favour and 10 against it. The vote against the resolution by China, Cambodia, Laos and Russia came as no surprise as they had done so for a similar resolution in 2017 too. Likewise, India’s abstention was expected as it had chosen to do so last year as well.
While the resolution’s adoption by the Third Committee of the UNGA had been a foregone conclusion as it had 99 co-sponsors, Bangladesh which has been dealing with a massive influx of Rohingya refugees from its eastern neighbour Myanmar had been hopeful that India too would back it.
However, India has its reasons for the abstention in both years and indeed this should be seen as a positive and productive position, said sources. India has always voted against country-specific resolutions at the UN. So the decision to abstain instead of voting against the resolution should actually be seen as support for Bangladesh as it’s a shift from India’s traditional position, sources added.
This year’s resolution had been moved by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and the European Union (EU). The ‘nay’ vote by China and Russia was expected as these two countries have been blocking UN Security Council resolutions seeking to impose sanctions on Myanmar for the human rights situation there.
Bangladesh which has been grappling with the humanitarian crisis triggered by the tide of Rohingya refugees that now number 1.1 million on its territory voted in favour of the resolution. However, even though the resolution found overwhelming support, Dhaka had little reason to cheer on Friday as its attempt a day earlier to begin the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar was thwarted by the refusal of those identified to return in the first batch.
At present, Bangladeshis sheltering the Rohingya who have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine in camps in Cox’s Bazar on the south eastern coast of Bangladesh. A total of 2,260 Rohingya Muslims and 65 Rohingya Hindus had been identified by the Bangladeshi authorities for repatriation in the first batch.
More work is required in order to persuade the Rohingya to return, said sources. They cited the decision of ASEAN countries to send a task force to Myanmar to assist in the repatriation with its suggestions on how the process can be eased.
India believes that the repatriation has to be “speedy and sustainable” and shouldn’t be a prolonged operation. This is learnt to have been conveyed once again by the Indian high commissioner to Bangladesh Harsh Vardhan Shringla during an interaction with the country’s foreign minister A.H. Mahmood Ali who had invited foreign diplomats on Thursday to brief them on the stalled Rohingya repatriation.
This was also underscored by India’s External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj during her visit to Myanmar in May this year when she sought the “safe, speedy and sustainable return of displaced persons to Rakhine State.
At the same time, India also feels that the onus is also on the Myanmarese authorities to take the Rohingya back. Seeking the quick return of the Rohingya refugees, India is assisting Myanmar with building pre-fabricated housing.
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