Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) today expressed concern over an agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar to repatriate hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees who fled brutal violence in Myanmar.
Dr. Homer Venters, PHR’s director of programs, who traveled to Bangladesh last month with a team of doctors to document evidence of physical and sexual violence against the Rohingya, issued the following statement:
“The agreement is eerily quiet on what actually happened to the Rohingya and does not address accountability for the wide-scale atrocities and terror inflicted upon them. Our team of physicians recently conducted forensic evaluations of Rohingya survivors in Bangladesh and we found that many women and children had sustained gunshots, stab wounds, burns, and other intentional injuries – including, reportedly, mass rape – that are inconsistent with any legitimate ‘anti-terror’ operations. It’s hard to imagine that in 2018, two national governments have reached an agreement to push almost 700,000 refugees – victims of an historic campaign of violence – back to their home country without a proper accounting of events and safeguards for the future.
“Without investigation, transparency, and accountability for crimes against the Rohingya, any discussion of repatriation is a nonstarter. Our experiences on the ground tell us that it is unlikely that Rohingya refugees will leave camps in Bangladesh if they face uncertainty about whether they or their families will be subjected to violence, abuse, and rape back in Myanmar. In addition, the systematic persecution and denial of education, health care, and other basic human rights that have long been a daily reality for the Rohingya must be addressed. Anyone who fears persecution on return to Myanmar must be afforded the right to seek asylum in Bangladesh, consistent with international law.
“The agreement stigmatizes the Rohingya people as would-be terrorists and includes unrealistic demands that these people, who fled for their lives with no possessions, show proof of residency to the very government that denied them of their citizenship, making it difficult for them to believe that they will be protected upon returning home. We call on the government of Myanmar to allow a full, impartial investigation by international bodies so that the truth can be established for all to see and guilty parties can be held accountable. This is the precursor to establishing any voluntary, safe, and dignified return.”
On its recent visit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, a team of PHR doctors conducted forensic documentation following internationally accepted protocols to corroborate stories of violence and abuse, supported by physical examinations and x-rays. The team will be returning in February for a similar investigation.