UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee on Friday urged Bangladesh authorities to engage Rohingyas in relocating them to Bhashan Char island.
She also asked to ensure Rohingyas’ participation in the relocating process if any plan of relocating would be taken.
The UN human right expert came up with this call while addressing a press conference on Friday at hotel Le Méridien Dhaka at the end of an 11-day visit to Thailand and Bangladesh.
“If any plans are made about refugee relocation in the future, the Rohingyas must be fully engaged and [be allowed to] participate in the process so that they can determine for themselves whether they wish to move. Without a protection framework agreed with the humanitarian community, the plans cannot move forward,” Yanghee Lee told.
Lee arrived in Bangladesh on January 19 after visiting Thailand from January 14.
Mentioning that it is imperative that any measure to relocate the Rohingya people enhance their enjoyment of rights and do not create a new crisis, she said, “I urge caution and patience by the Bangladesh government and full cooperation with the UN and the international community. There should be no rush to relocate refugees, such as before the monsoon season which is one of the possibilities that has been outlined to me.”
Lee also urged the government to share feasibility studies it has undertaken and allow the UN to carry out a full technical and humanitarian assessment, including a security assessment, before making any further plans for the housing of people on the island.
She visited the island, where the Bangladesh government is planning to relocate refugees, on Thursday.
Mentioning that it is clear that Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh cannot return to Myanmar in the near future, the UN expert encouraged the Bangladesh government to begin to engage in longer-term planning and prepare the local population for this reality. “A failure to do so will not only have negative consequences for the refugee population but also for Bangladesh, including most significantly, the host community, who have already given so much to accommodate the refugees.”
“I do not underestimate the burden that housing so many refugees is for Bangladesh. However, this burden will not be lessened by excluding Rohingya children from formal education. Equally, access to livelihood opportunities must also be ensured. This is not only vital for the physical and mental well-being of the refugees but it will also provide an outlet through which the refugee population can have some positive impact on the local economy and positive engagement with the host community,” she added.
Noting that the causes of the current Rohingya situation lie in Myanmar, Lee said, “It is to Myanmar that we must look for the solution. Its campaign of violence against ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya, the Kayin, the Kachin and the Shan, must end. Real steps must be taken to implement the recommendations of the UN and the Kofi Annan Commission, including by ensuring that the citizenship of the Rohingya is realised. There must be accountability for the campaign of ethnic cleansing and possible genocide against the Rohingya, as well as the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated against ethnic minorities around the country.”
The UN Special Rapporteur said her observations which are based on the information gathered in the last 10 days will be elaborated upon in her next Human Rights Council report.
She also said though the government of Myanmar is maintaining its position not to allow her access to the country, she again emphasised her willingness to work with it in the spirit of cooperation.
Lee claimed that the Myanmar government was consolidating what military governments worked towards over many years, defying a pledge to transition to a fully functioning democracy under civilian control.
“Democratic freedoms are ever fragile. Communities are divided based on religion and ethnicity, and members of minorities face marginalization and discrimination. Ethnic nationalities continue to be subject to domination by the central government and the military, despite the official stance that they are working for peace to be brought to the country,” she said.
Lee expressed serious concern about the situation in the conflict-affected states of Kachin, Shan and Rakhine, noting that despite a unilateral ceasefire in Kachin and Shan States, there continues to be fighting between ethnic armed organisations that is increasing instability and insecurity for civilians.
In Rakhine State, the escalating fighting between the military and the Arakan Army is very worrisome, especially because the government and military have disallowed humanitarian access, she said.
Lee spoke with several people about their fear regarding the implementation of the amendments to the 2012 Vacant, Fallow and Virgin Lands Management Law which could lead to many people becoming landless. Additionally, she heard concerns about mega projects, such as dams, being pursued by the Government. “The Government is not consulting with local people or being transparent about these projects, which is causing concern and uncertainty for millions of people,” Lee said.
From discussions she had with Rohingya who had only recently arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar, Lee said, “It’s evident that Myanmar is not working to create conditions for return for the Rohingya but is engaging in a sustained campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment.”