icon caret Arrow Down Arrow Left Arrow Right Arrow Up Line Camera icon set icon set Ellipsis icon set Facebook Favorite Globe Hamburger List Mail Map Marker Map Microphone Minus PDF Play Print RSS Search Share Trash Crisiswatch Alerts and Trends Box - 1080/761 Copy Twitter Video Camera  copyview Whatsapp Youtube
Report 121 / Asia

Le Bangladesh aujourd’hui

La démocratie et la stabilité du Bangladesh sont menacées par deux éléments: d’un côté, le risque que son système politique sombre dans une impasse à l’occasion des élections et, de l’autre, le défi croissant que pose l’islamisme militant, qui a déjà déclenché une avalanche de violences.

Synthèse

La démocratie et la stabilité du Bangladesh sont menacées par deux éléments: d’un côté, le risque que son système politique sombre dans une impasse à l’occasion des élections et, de l’autre, le défi croissant que pose l’islamisme militant, qui a déjà déclenché une avalanche de violences. Ces deux problèmes sont liés, le militantisme islamique ayant gagné du terrain dans une période de dysfonctionnements politiques, de mécontentement populaire et de violence. La traditionnelle modération et détermination des bangladais dominera-t-elle ou assistera-t-on a une escalade de violence et de confrontation politique qui pourraient faire dérailler la démocratie? Ces questions sont vitales. Une grave instabilité dans le troisième pays musulman le plus peuplé du monde ne pourrait qu’avoir des implications plus larges. La situation ne doit pas faire craindre le déclenchement d’un conflit majeur dans le pays ou le renforcement de l’extrémisme ou du terrorisme au niveau international mais certains éléments de fragilité dans le système demandent à être observés de plus près et requièrent un plus grand engagement dans ce pays. La communauté internationale peut aider à faire face aux risques les plus grands mais elle ne peut le faire que si elle considère le Bangladesh comme un partenaire stratégique sérieux et se tourne vers un dialogue politique plus mûr.

En général, depuis qu’il a acquis son indépendance du Pakistan avec l’aide de l’Inde en 1971, à l’issue d’une guerre brutale, ce sont plutôt les mauvaises nouvelles qui attirent l’attention sur le Bangladesh. Mis à part les catastrophes naturelles récurrentes, la liste des sujets de préoccupations est longue: parlement non fonctionnel, corruption enracinée, culture de la violence tant politique que non politique, organismes judiciaires et de maintien de l’ordre faibles, extrémisme islamiste militant et attaques contre des minorités, conflit ethnique, mauvaises relations avec les pays voisins, pauvreté, analphabétisme et faibles indicateurs de développement spécifiques aux femmes.

Dans l’immédiat, les problèmes se multiplient à l’approche des élections générales qui auront probablement lieu en janvier 2007. La conduite de ces élections reposera sur quatre institutions: la présidence, le chef du gouvernement intérimaire chargé de surveiller le processus, la commission électorale et l’armée. Aucune d’elles n’échappe à la controverse; le président et le président de la Cour suprême (qui prendra automatiquement la tête de l’administration intérimaire) sont taxés de partialité envers le Parti nationaliste du Bangladesh (BNP) au pouvoir, tandis que le chef de la commission électorale a entamé sa crédibilité par une révision de la liste électorale mal conçue et selon toute apparence dans un but politique. Seule l’armée a gardé profil bas. Mais alors qu’elle n’a rien fait pour ternir son image, sa réticence actuelle à prendre position en politique pourrait changer en cas d’instabilité sérieuse.

Les dirigeants des deux principaux partis, le BNP et la Ligue Awami, sont empêtrés dans une haine mutuelle qui a paralysé le parlement. La Ligue a de bonnes raisons de se poser en victime: une attaque à la grenade en août 2004 lors d’un rassemblement de la Ligue dans la capitale a failli tuer sa présidente, Sheikh Hasina, et a blessé ou tué d’autres responsables du parti; on compte parmi d’autres attaques le meurtre de Shah A.M.S. Kibria, un ancien ministre des finances respecté. Aucune enquête sérieuse n’a été menée concernant ces attaques meurtrières.

La Ligue Awami, dont les résultats au gouvernement ont été entachés par la violence politique et qui a immobilisé le parlement par un long boycott, a adopté une stratégie de confrontation. Exigeant des points de référence raisonnables pour garantir des élections libres et justes, elle a refusé de négocier avec le partenaire islamiste de la coalition du BNP, le Jamaat-e-Islami, et menace même de se retirer de la course. Bien que la Ligue ait remporté le meilleur score en 2001 et qu’elle espère bénéficier d’un vote de protestation favorable à l’opposition, le système majoritaire à un tour fait de la sélection des alliés politiques et de la répartition des sièges entre ceux-ci des questions primordiales. Le BNP a le soutien des partis religieux et a renforcé sa position en persuadant le parti Jatiya de l’ancien général Ershad de rejoindre son alliance.

Le principal bénéficiaire de ces équations politiques brouillonnes est la frange islamiste, de plus en plus influente, qui est menée par des partis au pouvoir légitimes comme le Jamaat, mais qui s’étend aussi au Jamaat-ul-Mujahideen Bangladesh (parti des Moudjahidin du Bangladesh) et au Jagrata Muslim Janata Bangladesh (Peuple musulman éclairé du Bangladesh), violemment militants. Des preuves circonstancielles et la logique politique donnent à penser que des groupes terroristes clandestins ont été entretenus et protégés par des personnalités au pouvoir.

Bien que le gouvernement ait longtemps nié le problème, une escalade de la violence en 2005 l’a forcé à faire face à une menace qui était déjà presque hors de contrôle. En août 2005, plus de 450 explosions simultanées ont eu lieu dans tous les districts du pays sauf un; les explosions étaient peu importantes et le nombre de victimes faible mais l’ampleur de l’organisation a tiré la sonnette d’alarme. Les premiers attentats suicide ont eu lieu en décembre 2005. Sous une pression nationale et internationale croissante, le gouvernement a arrêté certains militants de haut rang et quelques centaines de leurs soldats en mars 2006. La violence islamiste s’est tarie depuis lors, ce qui laisse penser que l’action de l’État a donné des résultats mais il se peut qu’il ne s’agisse que d’une suspension temporaire, ceux qui financent les militants craignant que la violence ne crée des problèmes diplomatiques et électoraux. Les problèmes du financement étranger de l’extrémisme et du système de madrasa en expansion en dehors de la réglementation étatique s’inscrivent sur le long terme.

Le militantisme accru ne peut être attribué seulement à la pauvreté. De fait, si l’on en croit les statistiques, l’économie du Bangladesh est en bonne santé et le pays progresse en matière de développement. Il existe d’autres facteurs de stabilité: des médias libres et dynamiques, une société civile et un secteur des ONG actifs, un électorat sophistiqué et une tradition bien enracinée de sécularisme libéral. L’islam a toujours été un élément identitaire important au Bangladesh; qu’il ait pris de l’importance depuis que le Bangladesh a acquis son indépendance en 1971 n’est ni surprenant ni alarmant. Devant les urnes, les bangladais ont toujours rejeté l’extrémisme religieux. Bien que les islamistes aient gagné en influence par leurs manœuvres au sein du gouvernement, leur score aux élections n’a pas augmenté. Le défi le plus urgent pour les dirigeants politiques du Bangladesh consiste à s’assurer que c’est bien la population qui choisit l’avenir du pays plutôt qu’une frange violente qui profite du vide laissé par les partis modérés qui ne voient pas plus loin que leurs intérêts à court terme.

Quant à la communauté internationale, le défi auquel elle doit faire face consiste à trouver les moyens de soutenir la démocratie. Pour ce faire, elle doit préférer un engagement politique plus actif à une relation jusqu’à présent axée sur l’aide et insister pour que le gouvernement satisfasse à certains standards en termes de droits humains, lors des élections et pour la réforme du secteur de la sécurité. Les problèmes de contre-terrorisme qui se posent sur le court terme ne devraient pas l’emporter sur les problèmes à long terme que sont l’amélioration du contrôle des forces de sécurité, le respect des droits humains et la fin de la culture d’impunité, particulièrement celle qui entoure les violences politiques. Mieux asseoir la démocratie est la meilleure garantie contre l’expansion de l’extrémisme.

Islamabad/Bruxelles, 23 octobre 2006

Rohingya refugee women hold placards as they take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the one-year anniversary of their exodus in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, 25 August 2018. REUTERS/Mohammad Ponir Hossain
Briefing 153 / Asia

Bangladesh-Myanmar: The Danger of Forced Rohingya Repatriation

Bangladesh and Myanmar have struck a deal for the involuntary repatriation of over 2,000 Rohingya refugees. But the agreement is rushed and threatens stability on both sides of the border. Myanmar and Bangladesh should halt the plan and instead work to create conditions conducive to a safe and dignified return. 

What’s new? Bangladesh’s government is preparing to return several thousand Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. Under pressure from China, the two countries have agreed to start implementing a repatriation agreement on 15 November 2018.

Why does it matter? The returns process is not voluntary and jeopardises refugees’ safety as conditions in Myanmar’s Rakhine state are not conducive to their return. The move renews the risk of violent unrest in Bangladesh where the refugees are housed as well in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

What should be done? The UN, U.S., European Union (EU), Australia, Canada and other governments should press Bangladesh and Myanmar to postpone repatriation until conditions on the ground in Myanmar allow Rohingya refugees to return safely and voluntarily.

I. Overview

Bangladesh is poised to begin returning several thousand Rohingya refugees to Myanmar. This repatriation is unlikely to be voluntary and should not proceed. It would not only violate Bangladesh’s international legal obligations and jeopardise the safety of the refugees, but risks triggering violence and greater instability on both sides of the border. Bangladesh and Myanmar should immediately halt the plan. The UN, including the secretary-general’s special envoy and the UN refugee agency, should continue to firmly oppose it, both in public and in private, and establish a process whereby Rohingya refugees are consulted about their future. The U.S., European Union (EU), Australia, Canada and others also should press Bangladesh and Myanmar to halt the returns and instead work to create conditions conducive to voluntary repatriation; those countries’ participation at the 11-15 November ASEAN summits in Singapore is an opportunity to do so.

II. New Pressures for Repatriation

Almost 750,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh following Myanmar’s brutal military operation in Rakhine state in response to attacks on security posts by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group in August 2017.[fn]See Crisis Group Asia Report N°292, Myanmar’s Rohingya Crisis Enters a Dangerous New Phase, 7 December 2017.Hide Footnote The refugees have been living in vast camps near the Bangladesh-Myanmar border ever since. A UN fact-finding mission concluded that the military’s actions constitute crimes against humanity, war crimes and possible genocide.[fn]“Myanmar: UN Fact-Finding Mission releases its full account of massive violations by military in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan States”, press release, Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), 18 September 2018.Hide Footnote

Myanmar and Bangladesh agreed to a procedural framework for repatriation in November 2017, which was supposed to start on 23 January. But no Rohingya refugee has returned through official channels. In fact, more Rohingya have left Myanmar since then: some 16,000 have departed Rakhine state for Bangladesh so far in 2018.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, UN officials involved in the relief effort, Bangladesh, November 2018.Hide Footnote Refugees are unwilling to return without guarantees that their security and rights will be protected, accountability ensured and compensation provided for the destruction of their villages, homes and property.

On 30 October, however, Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed on a repatriation deal at a joint working group meeting in Dhaka. Under the agreement, 485 Rohingya families (a total of 2,260 people) are to be returned to Myanmar starting on 15 November; Myanmar has said that it will process 150 returnees per day.[fn]“First batch of over 2,260 returnees to be accepted at rate of 150 per day”, Global New Light of Myanmar, 5 November 2018, p. 2.Hide Footnote  These people were not consulted in advance and how they were selected is unclear; they are terrified at the prospect of being returned to Myanmar.[fn]“Humanitarian Organizations call for Guarantees of Safety and Rights for Refugees before Return to Myanmar Commences”, press release, INGO Forum Myanmar, 8 December 2017.Hide Footnote  The Bangladesh authorities have said that they will not force people to go back, but no return under present circumstances can be voluntary. Crisis Group interviews indicate that some of the refugees on the list for return have gone into hiding out of fear of being repatriated; at least one has attempted suicide.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Rohingya refugees, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, November 2018. See also “Rohingya refugee attempts suicide as repatriation fears rise”, The Telegraph (London), 8 November 2018.Hide Footnote

Some of the refugees on the list for return have gone into hiding out of fear of being repatriated; at least one has attempted suicide.

While the two countries have held many previous discussions and made announcements on repatriation plans over the past year that have not been implemented, this time Bangladesh appears determined to push through a limited returns process. Its political calculations have shifted for two key reasons.

First, it has come under considerable diplomatic pressure from China to start returns. China has important economic and geostrategic interests in Myanmar, including a multi-billion dollar China-Myanmar Economic Corridor, the details of which are currently being finalised; it is also a major investor in Bangladesh, giving it significant leverage. China has been supporting Myanmar in the UN Human Rights Council and General Assembly and protecting it from stronger Security Council action. It has advocated support for Myanmar and Bangladesh to deal with the situation bilaterally instead of being addressed in multilateral forums, but this argument rings hollow if the bilateral process is not working.

Beijing has thus facilitated a series of meetings between Myanmar and Bangladesh and has made clear that it wants to see movement. Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi hosted a side meeting among Myanmar, Bangladesh and UN Secretary-General António Guterres and his Special Envoy during the General Assembly in September, where the Bangladesh foreign minister committed to start repatriations “soon”.[fn]“China facilitates informal meeting at UN to expedite refugee repatriation process”, The Irrawaddy, 1 October 2018.Hide Footnote Shortly before the 30 October meeting between Myanmar and Bangladesh, Chinese Public Security Minister Zhao Kezhi also met with Bangladeshi leaders.

Secondly, Bangladesh is worried about what it sees as an emerging global consensus that most refugees are unlikely to return home for the foreseeable future and a shift in Western donor focus to their local integration. Many senior Bangladeshi officials privately acknowledge that the majority of refugees may never go home.[fn]But they are not ready to state this publicly or to allow donors to take for granted Bangladesh’s continued hosting of the Rohingya – especially given the low levels of funding for the humanitarian operation and the burden this places on Bangladesh. It also believes that international actors have not pressed Myanmar enough to address the security, rights and accountability issues to enable any large-scale return.[fn]By undertaking some forced returns, Bangladesh officials appear to be banking on the fact that they will alarm donors and prompt them to focus more on the situation and realise the status quo is unsustainable.

These factors have combined to tip Bangladesh’s policy in favour of a small-scale return. Political dynamics ahead of general elections in Bangladesh on 23 December may also play a part. Myanmar also sees a limited repatriation as serving its interests. Naypyitaw hopes that a small number of returns would demonstrate to a sceptical world that it is ready to welcome Rohingya back, shifting the focus away from the reasons why they originally left – and thereby weakening, it believes, the basis for claims of ethnic cleansing and genocide.

III. The Risks of Forced Returns

While Bangladesh and Myanmar may consider that the return of some refugees serves their respective interests, it would harm the Rohingya themselves, who would be returning to a situation from which people continue to flee. Bangladesh is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, and while it has given the Rohingya safe haven, it does not formally recognise them as refugees. Nevertheless, Bangladesh has an obligation under customary international law to ensure that any return of refugees to Myanmar is voluntary and safe.

Bangladesh and Myanmar did not consult in advance with the UN or its refugee agency on the repatriation. The UN has stressed the move is premature and that it does not yet consider conditions on the ground in Rakhine state conducive to returns.[fn]The UN special rapporteur on the situation of Human Rights in Myanmar issued a statement on 6 November calling on Bangladesh to shelve the “rushed plans” for repatriation.[fn]

In addition to the human rights concerns, a forced repatriation carries serious risks for security and stability on both sides of the border. The refugee community in Bangladesh is strongly opposed to the move and will do whatever it can to resist it. This will increase tensions in the camps and could lead to confrontations between refugees and Bangladeshi security forces and greatly complicate humanitarian operations. A botched repatriation attempt could potentially set back peace and development efforts by years.

The ARSA militant group continues to have a prominent presence in the camps and could launch cross-border raids on Myanmar’s security forces, as it did in January 2018, in an effort to stop repatriation. Other militant factions have also been organising in the camps, though their capacity for violent action is unclear.[fn]Crisis Group interviews, Rohingya refugees, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, January-November 2018.Hide Footnote Any attack or other security incident in Rakhine state would heighten tensions there and could worsen conditions for the several hundred thousand Rohingya who remain. Myanmar has also said that some of the people proposed by Bangladesh for repatriation were ARSA members.[fn]“Dozens of ‘terrorists’ among Rohingya slated for repatriation, Myanmar official says”, Radio Free Asia, 8 November 2018.Hide Footnote  It is not known if they are among those selected for return but this raises the worrying possibility that some of those sent back could be arrested.

In addition to the human rights concerns, a forced repatriation carries serious risks for security and stability on both sides of the border.

A rushed repatriation is also likely to increase tensions in Rakhine state. Already, ethnic Rakhine opposed to returns have held demonstrations to stop them. Rakhine nationalists are also calling for strict security vetting of returnees and resettling them to certain secure areas instead of their home villages. In particular, nationalists are staunchly opposed to any returns to southern Maungdaw, which they want to maintain as a “Muslim-free zone”.[fn]“With Rohingya gone, Myanmar’s ethnic Rakhine seek Muslim-free 'buffer zone’”, The Daily Star, 16 March 2018.Hide Footnote  Crisis Group has seen a partial list of the returnees, a number of whom came from villages in this area, and under the terms of the repatriation agreement should be allowed to return there. A secretive repatriation process without the consultations and preparations needed in Rakhine state could easily inflame hostilities and provoke violence against returnees or the remaining Rohingya population.

If refugees fear that they will be forced back to Myanmar, they may become more desperate to leave the camps and to attempt dangerous sea journeys across the Bay of Bengal to Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia or other countries. This could have wider regional implications, as it did during the maritime migration crisis of 2015.

IV. Recommendations

The following actions should urgently be taken:

  • Bangladesh and Myanmar should immediately halt plans to return refugees to Rakhine state until they can ensure a process of voluntary, safe and dignified return. The onus is squarely on Myanmar to create those conditions.
     
  • In the meantime, Myanmar should grant unfettered access for the UN and its international NGO partners, as well as the media, to northern Rakhine for the delivery of essential humanitarian support and in order to allow independent assessment of the situation on the ground.
     
  • The Bangladesh government and its international partners should deepen their political engagement with the Rohingya refugees and consult them about their future. So far, there is almost no consultation or even processes in place to do so.
     
  • China should stop pressing for an early repatriation and lend its weight to efforts by other governments and organisations to create conditions in Rakhine state that are conducive to voluntary and sustainable return.
     
  • The UN and its refugee agency should continue to firmly oppose the repatriation in public and in private and use its influence in both countries to halt the process. In particular, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, should take a clear public stand and press both Dhaka and Naypyitaw to shelve their current plans. The UN, already facing serious questions about its approach in the years leading up to the crisis, cannot fail the Rohingya again.[fn]The Fact-Finding Mission recommended that “As a matter of urgency, a comprehensive, independent inquiry should be conducted into the involvement of the United Nations in Myanmar since 2011, with a view to establishing whether everything possible to prevent or mitigate the unfolding crises was done, identifying lessons learned and good practices, making recommendations as appropriate, including on accountability, and enabling more effective work in future.” This call has been echoed by the Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee. See “Report of the International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar”, A/HRC/39/64, 18 September 2018, para. 111.Hide Footnote If a precedent of forced repatriation is set, larger-scale forced returns in the future become much more likely.

As dialogue partners with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), the U.S., EU, Australia, Canada and others should use the upcoming ASEAN summit meetings from 11 to 15 November in Singapore to press Myanmar to halt its current plans and instead work to create conditions for voluntary repatriation. ASEAN countries have a direct stake, since forced returns will likely lead to a surge in Rohingya seeking to flee by boat to Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.

Brussels, 12 November 2018

 

Appendix A: Map of Rakhine State