Dhaka, Bangladesh – The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) has expressed regret for not “responding immediately” to the Rohingya crisis, while vowing to assume a “strong” role in dealing with the ongoing situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh.
Yousef bin Ahmad al-Othaimeen, OIC secretary-general, urged on Sunday the organisation’s member states to defend the Rohingya, hundreds of thousands of whom have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh as a result of what the UN has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by Myanmar’s security forces.
“We affirm the commitment of the OIC to continue to act at all international and regional levels in support of the cause of the Rohingya people,” said al-Othaimeen, speaking at the 45th Session of the OIC’s Council of Foreign Ministers n the Bangladeshi capital, Dhaka.
Prior to the two-day OIC summit, a delegation from the 57-member organisation visited Rohingya refugee camps in southern Bangladesh.
Some 670,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since security forces launched a violent crackdown in the country’s western Rakhine State last August, according to the UN, in the wake of deadly attacks on military posts by members of the Arakan Rohingya Solidarity Army (ARSA).
Since then, Myanmar security forces have been accused of rape, murder, torture and setting Rohingya homes on fire.
“We will [now] play a strong role along with Bangladesh, the United Nations and the international community,” Hesham Youseff, assistant secretary-general for OIC’s humanitarian affairs division, said on Saturday.
He added that the OIC, which bills itself as “the collective voice of the Muslim world”, regretted not “responding immediately” to the situation.
The OIC has said it will create a new committee on accountability for crimes against the Rohingya, in line with its newly adopted “stronger role”.
The committee will gather evidence of crimes against the Rohingya to ensure those guilty of human rights violations are appropriately convicted, AH Mahmood Ali, Bangladesh’s minister of foreign affairs, said on Sunday.
Earlier this month, Britain’s ambassador to the UN called on Myanmar authorities to carry out a “proper investigation” into alleged crimes against the country’s minority Rohingya population.
“In order to have accountability, there must be a proper investigation,” Karen Pierce said, speaking on May 2 as part of a four-day UN Security Council (UNSC) envoy visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh.
The probe could be carried out either by the International Criminal Court or Myanmar’s own government, Pierce added.
Myanmar officials deny the country’s military is complicit in instigating violence against the Rohingya, though have pledged to take “harsh” action against any perpetrators of sexual violence.
Addressing OIC delegates on Sunday, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed urged members to pressure Myanmar into ensuring a safe return for all Rohingya forced to flee their homes.
“The Rohingyas deserve the right to life, dignity and existence like us all,” Hasina said.
Myanmar and Bangladesh announced a repatriation deal in January, but rights groups and Rohingya have raised concerns about the agreement, saying it does not guarantee full citizenship or safety for those who return.
The UN’s refugee agency has said conditions in Myanmar are “not yet conducive for returns to be safe, dignified and sustainable”.