In the past three months, more than 600,000 people fleeing violence in Rakhine have streamed into Bangladesh, creating a humanitarian crisis. The long-standing tensions and mistrust between the Rohingya minority and the local Buddhist majority, took a dramatic turn in the later part of August, creating a large influx of Rohingya to Bangladesh.
The initial influx of Rohingya to Bangladesh can be traced back to 1978, with large arrivals in 1991-1992, 2012, 2014 and 2016.
With the arrival of the new influx, at present a total of approximately 1,000,000 Rohingyas are seeking shelters in Bangladesh. The situation has created acute shortages of all kind of humanitarian support, most critically shelter, food, sanitation and clean water. Unless a sustainable solution is found there is a possibility that the entire Rohingya community from Myanmar may flee to Bangladesh to escape ongoing grave violations of Human Rights.
Realising the situation, the Government of Bangladesh has allowed the Rohingya people to seek temporary shelter and provided them humanitarian support. A total of 3,000 acres of land has been allocated in Cox’s Bazar, for the new camps, but refugees are arriving faster than the camps are set up, thus settling anywhere they can find space.
The UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, has urged Myanmar’s authorities to immediately end military operations that have sent more than 500,000 Rohingya Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh, calling the crisis “the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare”. He has warned that the humanitarian crisis was a breeding ground for radicalisation, criminals and traffickers. And he said the broader crisis “has generated multiple implications for neighbouring states and the larger region, including the risk of inter-communal strife”.
UN Human Rights High Commissioner has lashed out at the treatment of the Rohingya indicating it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Director General of UN Migration Agency has termed the Rohingya crisis as the world biggest humanitarian disaster of the century.
UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict Pramila Patten during her recent visit to Bangladesh stated, “My observations point to a pattern of widespread atrocities, including rape, gang-rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity directed against Rohingya women and girls“. She in a press conference in Dhaka further stated that a survivor described being held in captivity by the Myanmar Armed Forces for 45 days when she was raped repeatedly.
Mr Marzuki Darusman, former Indonesian Attorney-General and human rights campaigner, who chairs the UN Fact Finding Mission following his visit to the Rohingya camps indicated the mission was deeply disturbed at the end of their visit and they heard many accounts from people from many different villages across northern Rakhine state pointing to a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people.
The European Union has suspended invitations to Myanmar military commanders and their defence cooperation with Myanmar, asserting that the perpetrators of crimes against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority must be brought to justice. The French President Emmanuel Macron said attacks on Myanmar’s Rohingya minority amounted to “genocide” and has pledged to work with other members of the UN Security Council to end the violence.
At the 9th D-8 summit held last month (20th October) the forum termed the persecution of the Rohingya as ‘ethnic cleansing’ and gave a reassurance that they would provide political and humanitarian support for a durable solution to the problem. The Government of Turkey has continued to provide support and President Erdogan has categorically condemned the violence. The Government of Maldives has suspended all trade ties with Myanmar.
In a recent judgment by the Permanent Peoples’ Tribunal, an international opinion tribunal founded in Bologna, in its recent hearing in Kuala Lumpur (Sep 18-22) ruled the current Rohingya crisis as unequivocally genocide.
On the 21st October, the Honourable Prime Minster of Bangladesh during her telephone Conversation with the UN Secretary General urged the UN and the international community to put more pressure on the government of Myanmar to ensure the safe return of Rohingya to their country. She further sought support from the UN Secretary General to implement her five-point proposal she presented at the UN General Assembly.
A ministerial-level pledging conference was held in Geneva on 23 October. Co-hosted by the European Union and the Government of Kuwait, and co-organised by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and OCHA, it aimed to raise the necessary resources to enable the humanitarian community to meet the most urgent needs of Rohingya refugees who sought shelter and safety in Bangladesh.
Following the recent influx, our Commission undertook several fact-finding missions to Cox’s Bazar. In the past 9 months commencing from February the Commission has undertaken five fact finding missions. During these missions, the Commission heard horrendous stories – stories of torture, cruel, degrading and inhuman treatment. We heard shocking narrations of desperate refugees fleeing to safety. We witnessed a larger wave of Rohingya refuges crossing the border and coming towards Bangladesh. We saw bullet wounds and burn injuries. We heard of reports of rapes and beatings. Some spoke of their homes being set ablaze and they alleged that all these atrocities were carried out by the Myanmar military.
We observed that most of these refugees particularly women and children were traumatised. They were traumatised to the extent they have become emotionless. They were more interested of their safety than of food. They seemed to value the social protection they had in Cox’s Bazar. There were many children who either claimed to have lost their parents or did not know their whereabouts. Many elderly people were helpless not knowing how they would survive. Some elderly was unable to walk and were carried around by their young relatives. Women were struggling to take care of their children.
The National Human Rights Commission strongly believes that human rights are universal and thus any violation of human rights could not be taken in isolation.
Therefore, it is vital to look at how this scenario has impacted on the local population.
The district administration of Cox’s Bazar is grappling with current massive exodus. Despite the fact that the Government of Bangladesh has allocated acres of land which is in fact forest reserves, the influx is faster than setting up camps. Thus, the Rohingya refugees has started occupying all available spaces including public spaces such as railway stations, public grounds and markets. Persons, who were not able to find a space, are simply occupying roadsides.
During our visit, we witnessed rows and rows of persons helplessly standing by the roadsides.
Many local residences are currently extending a helping hand, providing whichever they can within their capacity. But there are concerns. There is a serious shortage of food particularly rice in the local markets in Teknaf and Ukhia. The stocks of rice are fast depleting and the current flood which has caused a food shortage is adding to this crisis.
The local people in Ukhia and Teknaf are now starting to worry about diseases which have stated spreading. Waterborne and skin diseases are widely spreading among the Rohingya refugees and the medicines are running out. The health crisis is beyond the capacity of existing medical complexes in the local areas. Thus, some patients including the wounded had to be taken to the district hospitals in Cox’s Bazar and serious cases to Chittagong. It is also reported that the Refugees are carrying Polio, Tuberculosis and HIV AIDS among other diseases. This is a concern because Polio has been totally eradicated in Bangladesh and Tuberculosis is very much under control.
The environmental issues are yet another concern. The land allocated for the Rohingya where the makeshift camps are build are the reserve forest areas. Rohingya occupying these areas are said to be polluting the water sources that are used by the local people.
The National Human Rights Commission has send call for action to many international, regional and local entities which directly or indirectly has a stake in this crisis, including the UN agencies, AICHR, OIC and diplomatic missions operating in Dhaka.
The Commission would emphasise that, it is vital not to lose sight of this situation. Unfortunately, we know in the past the Rohingya crisis did not receive the attention of the global community consistently and continuously. We urge that this time - it must be different. The level of atrocities faced by the Rohingya refugees is far too grave for the world community to ignore this issue.
The decision of the Government of Bangladesh to place humanity as an utmost priority is commendable. The Commission lauds the efforts thus far taken by GOB and encourages it to continue its sincere endeavours in protecting and promoting human rights of the Rohingya seeking refuge in Bangladesh, despite the fact Bangladesh not being a State party to the 1951 Convention on Refugees.
The Commission strongly believes that the international community must play a vital role in addressing this ongoing crisis. And we have the Kofi Annan report to guide us. It has recommendations and very specific actions suggested to the Government of Myanmar and the international community at large. Let me take this opportunity to put forward some recommendations from the Commission to the International Community.
Our Recommendations are:
► Take immediate steps to end atrocities of Myanmar security forces on Rakhine Muslims;
► Continue to provide humanitarian aid in a coordinated manner;
► Continue to lobby with the Government of Myanmar to find a durable and sustainable solution to address the ongoing crisis; Continue to advocate for the rights of the Rohingya including the right to return and citizenship;
► Advocate establishing a buffer zone within the territory of Myanmar under the guidance of UN agencies to be used as a safe transit point for retuning Rohingya;
► Support the immediate implementation of the Kofi Annan report;
► Support and implement the five-point proposal made by the Honourable Prime Minister of Bangladesh at the 72nd United Nations General Assembly, which includes safe return of Rohingyas to Myanmar and implementing the Kofi Annan report.
The level of atrocities faced by the Rohingya is far too grave to be ignored. Thus, the Commission would urge all stake holders including the NHRI’s, international community and the UN to consistently and continuously advocate and work towards finding durable solutions. Collective efforts are very much needed to surmount global politics and uphold justice, fairness and equality. The International community will have to play a robust and strong role to ensure same. The Commission remains committed to safeguarding human rights everywhere equally.
Let us all speak, insist and demand justice to uphold Human Rights for all, everywhere, equally!
The writer is the Chairman of National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh