The violence and abuse against the Rohingya population in Myanmar led to 750.000 refugees entering Bangladesh in less than three months at the end of 2017. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) referred to the attacks as “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
Today, the district of Cox’s Bazar, only a few kilometres from the Myanmar border, houses one of the world’s largest refugee camps, with close to 900,000 refugees living in temporary shelters.
The concentration of people in these camps is amongst the densest in the world and the conditions are poor. People lack proper shelters, toilet facilities, clean water and food.
The national authorities in Bangladesh and Myanmar have established a repatriation agreement, but few Rohingya are willing to return to Myanmar as long as the Myanmar government does not guarantee them citizenship and protection from further violence.
“The continued uncertainty of the Rohingya’s status and right to return to their homeland, coupled with a lack of education, learning and working opportunities in the camps, put them in an extremely vulnerable position. Although the Bangladeshi government have been very generous in accommodating the refugees, we need to find a long-terms solution for the Rohingya as well as the Bangladeshi host communities”, says Benedicte Giæver, Executive Director of NORCAP.
Hannah McKay was on her first foreign assignment, just three months after joining Reuters, photographing Rohingya Muslims in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Then she and other photographers heard around 5,000 more people were heading to the area, trying to find their way across the border from neighbouring Myanmar. Here is her account of what happened next:
“We were standing, looking out over paddy fields and grasslands – lots of water and one thin path leading to the border with Myanmar.
“In the distance we could see a huge group of people. But they weren’t moving. It was 4 o’clock in the afternoon with only two hours left of daylight. So we decided to move towards them.
“It took us about an hour along the muddy path, meeting border guards and persuading them to let us pass. Then we saw thousands of refugees just sitting there, with more Bangladeshi border guards telling us to go back.
“We could see something was going on behind the crowd. So we waited for an opportunity to move closer, and that’s when we saw them.
“The crowd was sitting on a riverbank and behind them, about three meters below, in the river itself, there were just hundreds of refugees coming across every minute. It was non-stop. There was no end to the people. People carrying babies. Elderly people being escorted through the water and mud, more than knee-deep. And we were just photographing everyone coming towards us.
“Then this woman appeared. She got to the point where she needed to get up to the footpath where we were. But she was just exhausted. She didn’t have anything left to get herself up. Two refugee men on her level were trying to push her up, which was when we reached out to help. Another Reuters photographer, Adnan Abidi, took a hand. Another photographer took another and I got her leg when she got within range. It was a case of dragging her.
From a democracy champion to defending Myanmar against genocide charges, the shock decision by civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to face the UN’s top court risks further damaging her image overseas and deepening the siege mentality at home.
“We stand with you,” proclaim billboards across Myanmar, sporting beaming portraits of the Nobel laureate as she prepares to face the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over the Rohingya crisis.
Suu Kyi’s supporters are printing off T-shirts, organizing rallies and even signing up to VIP tours to The Hague to offer their backing.
Political parties and even some rebel armed groups have also fallen over themselves to give their support, in a country where the Rohingya garner little sympathy and are widely regarded as illegal immigrants.
Yet overseas, particularly in the West and in Muslim countries, Suu Kyi’s reputation lies in tatters with multiple awards and even honorary citizenship revoked.
Critics say “The Lady”, once lauded alongside Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, has become an apologist for a murderous military intent on wiping out the country’s Rohingya Muslims.
The spectacle of Suu Kyi standing up in court on behalf of the nation might play well at home but she risks suffering a fatal blow to what remains of her international reputation.
“If she’s only going to use the visit to demonstrate defiance and continue to defend the indefensible, then it only widens the impasse,” Yangon-based analyst David Mathieson told AFP.
Rohingya Youth Call on the International Community to Act at Landmark Conference
Young Rohingya people and other ethnic minority activists have come together at a landmark conference to demand justice and an end to human rights violations in Myanmar, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) announced today.
The first ever International Rohingya Youth Conference was held between 29 November and 1 December at Queen Mary University in London, UK. More than 45 participants from 9 countries attended, representing not just Rohingya but also Karen, Kachin, Burman, Tibetan, and Uyghur groups.
“With the survival of the Rohingya people at stake, young people are more important than ever. They are our future leaders, who can provide ideas, energy and urgency to our cause. This week’s conference was a unique opportunity not just to listen to their voices, but also to foster solidarity with other minority groups living through oppression,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.
“Young people are united in their calls to end all abuses against Rohingya, and for those responsible to be brought to justice. It is time for the world to listen and take action.”
At the conference, whose theme was “Cultivating and Mobilizing a Rohingya Youth Movement”, Rohingya youth leaders from around the world to discuss a range of social and political issues that affect their communities. These include how to strengthen the movement’s capacity, how to support refugee and IDP communities, and how to build solidarity and create learning opportunities with other civil society allies.
“Rohingya are oppressed in Myanmar today, just as Kachin people are oppressed. We are the same victims. It is time for us to join forces in solidarity to get justice. This youth conference was extremely encouraging. it helped build bridges between communities united in their desire for a life in dignity and safety,” said Hkanhpa Sadan, Foreign Affairs Secretary of the Kachin National Organization.
“What Rohingya are facing today, Karen people have also faced more than 60 years. Massacres, rape, burning of villages, killing of children. When the government and military say the reports of human rights violations against the Rohingya are false, we remember they said the same thing about the same human rights violations against us. That is why we are standing in solidarity with our Rohingya brothers and sisters, and we hope our combined efforts will bring positive change for all our communities.” said Nant Bwa Bwa Phan Karen activist.
China is working through bilateral mechanisms, Secretary Momen said
Bangladesh has said it keeps exploring all possible avenues through bilateral and international mechanisms to send back Rohingyas safely to their place of origin in Rakhine State.
“We want to work in all areas with the same pace with an active trilateral effort with China and Myanmar in place,”
Masud Bin Momen secretary (Asia and Pacific) at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs briefed reporters at State guesthouse Meghna after the second Foreign Office Consultation (FOC) with the Philippines on Tuesday.
He said it will be a very difficult proposition if the Rohingya issue is left with the bilateral front only considering past experiences, reports UNB.
Secretary Momen said Bangladesh, China and Myanmar are moving ahead trilaterally as China is working as a sort of guarantor to send Rohingyas back through bilateral mechanisms.
Responding to a question, he said the issue of “accountability and justice” is a matter of high moral grounds as genocidal acts had taken place; and the international community has a responsibility to address the issue.
On November 14, pre-trial Chamber III of the International Criminal Court had authorized the Prosecutor to proceed with an investigation for the alleged crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction committed against the Rohingya people from Myanmar.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said her investigation will seek to uncover the truth. “My office will now focus on ensuring the success of its independent and impartial investigation.”
Suu Kyi is among several top Myanmar officials named in a case filed in Argentina for crimes against Rohingya Muslims and it shows the Nobel Laureate, for the first time, has been legally targeted over the crisis.
On Nov. 11, the Gambia filed a lawsuit against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice for the southeast asian country’s atrocities against the Rohingya population.
Over the past years, hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh for refuge, sparking one of the more dire refugee crises of the decade. They continue to remain in camps in Bangladesh, where they are vulnerable to human trafficking and other forms of violence.
Even though the crisis has been ongoing for decades, it’s a crucial time for the lawsuit to be filed, advocates say. And the Rohingya people’s continuing refusal to go back is only testament to the lack of security for them in Myanmar.
“No one has been held accountable,” Akila Radhakrishnan, President of Global Justice Center (GJC), told IPS. “It’s the same forces [that] remain in Rakhine state, they remain kind of [as a] part of the military with no punishment. There’s no feeling that there’s safety and security to go back to Myanmar.”
Radhakrishnan pointed out that even though the lawsuit may be “far away” from when the crisis began, the continued fear of Rohingyas to return to their home shows how deeply the crisis persists.
“I think there’s a recognition of the impossibility of the return of the Rohingya, a solution to the humanitarian crisis,” she said, adding that the lawsuit will push for the Myanmar government to take actions that focus on changing the laws and policies that enabled the genocide.
The lawsuit by the Gambia is supported in large part by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, and is being led by Attorney General and Minister of Justice of the Gambia Abubacarr M Tambadou, who decided to pursue actions after a recent visit to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, a region where about 900,000 Rohingya refugees are living in camps in that the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has termed the world’s biggest refugee camp.
Bangladesh is blocking hundreds of thousands of Rohingya children from accessing meaningful education, Human Rights Watch said on Tuesday, urging authorities to lift restrictions on schooling in refugee camps.
In a report called ‘Are we not human?’, Human Rights Watch accused Bangladesh of violating the rights of 400,000 school age children who have fled Myanmar and are currently living in the Cox’s Bazaar refugee camps.
“Depriving an entire generation of children of education is in no one’s interest,” Bill Van Esveld, associate children’s rights director at Human Rights Watch told Reuters. “The international community needs to act and demand that Bangladesh and Myanmar change course.”
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military, which followed attacks by Rohingya insurgents.
The Human Rights Watch report said Bangladesh had banned Rohingya refugees from enrolling in schools outside the camps or taking national exams and also barred U.N. agencies and foreign aid groups from giving formal accredited education.
It accused Myanmar of not agreeing to recognize the use of its school curriculum in the camps.
Bangladesh’s Refugee Relief and Repatriation Commission Chief Mahbub Alam Talukder said it was untrue that children in the camps were not being educated and that there were 4,000 learning centers in the camps.
Since August 25, 2017, Bangladesh is hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas and most of them entered Cox’s Bazar amid a military crackdown on the predominantly Muslim minority state Rakhine
The government is optimistic about implementing its plan to relocate Rohingyas to Bhasan Char after completing further technical assessment by an expert team, a senior government official has said.
The official said the government has not shelved its relocation plan at all on Monday, reports UNB.
He said: “We can do that. It’s [Rohingya relocation] possible.”
UNHCR Representative in Bangladesh Steven Corliss said the UN’s first technical assessment mission was scheduled to be done from November 17 to November 19.
He said the UN and the government of Bangladesh have agreed to “postpone” the visit to make sure that the right experts, and all the necessary logistical arrangements are in place.
“We are awaiting confirmation of an alternative date, and are also submitting terms of reference to the government for these onsite visits, which are part of a broader assessment process,” the UNHCR Representative added.
Responding to another question, Corliss said the exact composition of the teams will be defined by the UN objectives and the government’s nod for the visits.
Foreign Secretary M Shahidul Haque said the technical team is expected to visit the Bhasan Char on December. “They want to ensure some certain issues, and the process will begin after that,” he said.
Beijing will do whatever they can to help alleviate the situation and push forward early repatriation, the envoy said
Beijing is playing a role in finding a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis as China shares Bangladesh’s concerns regarding the issue, said Li Jiming, the Chinese Ambassador in Dhaka.
“China is trying to persuade Myanmar all the time that the eventual solution of the Rohingya issue will be beneficial to both the countries (Bangladesh and Myanmar), and I believe that the Rohingya issue will be settled in the end,” he said on Sunday.
The Chinese Ambassador was addressing a seminar, “Finding a way to Peaceful Repatriation of Rohingyas,” organized by English daily Bangladesh Post at the National Press Club in Dhaka, reports BSS.
China cares, China contributes, and China acts in resolving the crisis and with its traditional friendship with Bangladesh and Myanmar, Beijing will do whatever they can to help alleviate the situation and push forward early repatriation, the envoy said.
But he simultaneously added that despite its good relations with Myanmar, Beijing could not lecture “Myanmar what to do” since it is a sovereign country. That requires China to pursue the matter diplomatically following the principle of equality and mutual respect.
“Here I want to make it very clear that, Myanmar is a sovereign country as Bangladesh is. China has no right to lecture Myanmar what to do,” he said.
Jiming said: “It is a well-accepted idea in many countries that China has a huge influence over Myanmar as whatever we (China) say Myanmar will listen and do accordingly.”
The recent case lodged by The Gambia with the International Court of Justice against Myanmar’s persecution of the Rohingya is the first time that rape will be prosecuted as genocide at the court, which is based in The Hague. The case has the potential to enhance feminist international law, while reinforcing the need to carry out the global women, peace and security agenda.
Aung San Suu Kyi, the state counsellor and minister for foreign affairs, will lead Myanmar’s delegation to the International Court of Justice for the first hearings in the case, filed in November. Suu Kyi’s decision to lead the delegation, though reasonable given her position in the government, is nevertheless shocking, given both her previous stature as a woman of peace and the worldwide criticism over the treatment of the Rohingya. More than half of the population of the Muslim ethnic group fled to neighboring Bangladesh amid deadly military operations against them more than two years ago.
Because Myanmar is not a state party to the International Criminal Court, also in The Hague, and the United Nations Security Council has been unable to refer the matter of the Rohingya to the ICC, justice for these crimes has remained elusive — until, perhaps, now.
The International Court of Justice case is based on breaches of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide 1948. The convention contains a clause giving the court jurisdiction to resolve disputes over the implementation of the convention. Myanmar continues to deny that a genocide occurred, as well as any wrongdoing by its security forces or widespread sexual violence.
The hearings, scheduled for Dec. 10-12, are to decide if the court will order provisional measures to stop potentially genocidal acts by any government forces or related organizations or the destruction of any possible evidence.