“We may have different religions, different languages, different coloured skin, but we all belong to one human race. We all share the same basic values” - Kofi Annan
If we could believe in this quote and had acted on it, we would not have had to face the “Rohingya crisis.” The Rohingya are ethnic people living in the northwest Rakhine State in Myanmar but are refused to be seen as Myanmar citizens as they are minority Muslims. The Myanmar government who are pro-Buddhists considers them as illegal immigrants from across the border.The Rohingya issue existed for years since the military rule began in Myanmar. However, since Suu Kyi became de-facto leader in a power-sharing agreement with the military in November 2015, the aggression and torture on Rohingyas has increased immensely. There were mass murders, slaughtering and rape of women and children. The military also destroyed and burnt down villages. Atrocities reached such a height that the United Nations pronounced the military offensive as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”. Additionally, UN states that the Rohingya situation is the “world’s fastest growing refugee crisis.“
Facing such harsh circumstances, the Rohingyas are forced to leave their home and village in fear for their life. They tried to flee to Malaysia mostly by boat, but unfortunately they were refused entry and were turned back. Bangladesh government allowed them to enter as they were forced to leave Rakhine State. Refugee camps were set up in Cox’s Bazar where over 1 million Rohingya men, women and children in need of shelter, food, water and healthcare, have settled.
Watching such horrifying situation happening in Myanmar, rest of the world has reacted and demanded answers from Suu Kyi, the Prime Minister of Myanmar to stop such genocide and abuse. Nevertheless, Suu Kyi denied all the allegations and failed to acknowledge any human rights violations.
According to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) 1948, Article 14(1), “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”. Under Article 13(2) every person has the right to leave from and return to his country. The Bangladesh government, with few exceptions, welcomed Rohingya refugees from the first, considering the difficult circumstances and plight of the Rohingya people marred by violence for the survival of their people. Due to the Rohingya settlement in Cox’s Bazar, over 6000 acres of land have been destroyed in the past year for accommodation. The settlement has taken a toll on the environment and the economy of that area.
International Refugee Law deals with rights and protection of refugees and is a branch of International Law. However, the 1951 Refugee Convention makes no mention of voluntary repatriation requirements. Under the fundamental principle of non-refoulement, a state is obliged to provide shelter to a refugee as per customary international law. Now, Bangladesh is preparing to send back (repatriate) the Rohingya refugees to Myanmar and making preparations accordingly. Even though, Article 3 of The Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman and Degrading Treatments and Punishments, 1985, acknowledges the principle of non-refoulement. The Convention states that no State can expel, repel, return or extradite a person to another state where there are substantial grounds to believe that he would be in danger or be subjected to torture if done so. Even though Bangladesh is not bound to follow any of these Conventions, the government of the country has opened its gates to welcome the refugees only on humanitarian grounds, at the cost of their own well-being and environment.
The writers are Barrister Sabrina Zarin, partner at FM Associates, Advocate of the Supreme Court of Bangladesh and Nowshin Zarin, MBA, Kelanton University