Protection, Justice and Accountability Needed for Return of Rohingya Refugees
As the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities continue to face threats and persecution, UN Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Ms. Yanghee Lee, called for the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar military, Min Aung Hlaing, to be prosecuted for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, adding that holding perpetrators to account for crimes is necessary before any return of refugees could commence.
This is the first time Ms. Lee has publicly called for the Commander-in-Chief to be held accountable since the International Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (IIFFMM) last year found that the brutal Myanmar military campaign against the Rohingya was orchestrated with “genocidal intent”, recommending Min Aung Hlaing and others to be held accountable for the “gravest crimes under international law.” Ms. Lee made her end of mission statement from Dhaka, Bangladesh as she continues to be barred from entering Myanmar for reporting on the deteriorating human rights situation in the country.
“I believe that instead of bringing about the democratic reforms that were promised, the civilian government is consolidating what military governments worked towards for many years,” said Ms. Lee in her end of mission statement, noting that democratic space remains fragile and communities remain divided as minorities continue to be marginalized and discriminated against. “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 stated.
Indeed, conflict is only increasing. Most recently fighting between the Arakan Army (AA) and the Myanmar military in Rakhine State displaced at least 6,000 civilians from their homes. The fighting has injured many, including two boys aged 10 and 18, as a mortar shell exploded in Yan Aung Myin Village, Maungdaw Township. The Myanmar government has continued to remain silent on Major-General, Tun Tun Nyi’s claims that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi instructed the Myanmar military to “crush” the AA as they had done with the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). “What is happening in Rakhine reminds me of the tactics used by the Tatmadaw against ethnic populations for decades,” Ms. Lee said in her statement during her mission, “All the people of Rakhine State, including the Rakhine, Mro, Daignet, Hindu and Rohingya, have suffered enough,” she continued. In addition, on January 10, 2018, UN and international humanitarian agencies – with the exception of the World Food Program and the International Committee of the Red Cross – were instructed by the Rakhine State government to suspend their activities in parts of northern Rakhine State affected by the ongoing conflict. Such blockage of humanitarian aid is considered a serious violation of international humanitarian law.
For the Rohingya, it is clear that Myanmar authorities have not worked towards creating conditions for their return and instead have engaged “in a sustained campaign of violence, intimidation and harassment” as Rohingya people continue to be murdered, raped, abducted and their homes burned by security forces and Rakhine extremists according to Ms. Lee. UN Secretary-General, Antonio Guterres has also spoken out stating that the situation on the ground is not conducive to return, noting that the failure to solve “the root causes of the problem is that violence then tends to erupt again, and that’s what we have seen recently in Myanmar.”
Meanwhile abroad, Rohingya continue to be at further risk of human rights violations. Ms. Lee visited Bhasan Char, a muddy silt islet off the coast of Bangladesh that emerged just two decades ago out of the sea, where Bangladesh plans to relocate approximately 100,000 Rohingya from the cramped camps of Cox’s Bazar. The remote island would be difficult to access, likely cutting off international humanitarian aid. Amnesty International has described the flood prone island as “uninhabitable.”
While Basan Char is certainly not the answer to the problems posed by this refugee crisis, an urgent solution is needed as more Rohingya, not only from Myanmar, but also those who fled to India in earlier times are seeking refuge in Bangladesh. Approximately 1,300 Rohingya refugees from 300 families have arrived to Bangladesh recently, fearing refoulement and anti-Rohingya rhetoric in India, many risking arrest and becoming trapped in a “no man’s land” along the Bangladesh and India border. Ms. Lee also expressed her dismay at the recent deportation of 13 Rohingya from Saudi Arabia to Bangladesh where they have been charged with forging passports used to travel to Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia plans to further deport 250 Rohingya to Bangladesh, as their identity as Rohingya from Myanmar was not accepted upon their entrance to Saudi Arabia.
Such persecution of the Rohingya worldwide makes the need for accountability more urgent. Justice and accountability is a precondition for the safe, sustainable and dignified return of the Rohingya refugees and for this it is vital that the UN Security Council refer the situation of Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. Prosecution of crimes at the highest level is needed to end the ongoing grave crimes being committed against ethnic minorities by the Myanmar military, emboldened by decades of its Bamar Buddhist domination. Until there are assurances of a dignified, voluntary, safe and sustainable return, countries must work to provide protection to atrocity survivors, not imprison them for being refugees or subject them to re-victimization.
 One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.
Resources from the past week
Statements and Press Releases
By 18 INGOs in Myanmar
By Karen Human Rights Group
By Karenni Civil Society Network
By Karenni Civil Society Network
By Mungchying Rawt Jat
By Yanghee Lee, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in Myanmar
Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”