Statement 121 Views

Myanmar Authorities Must Ensure Full Legal Recognition of the Right to Citizenship of All Rohingya People, Deputy High Commissioner tells Human Rights Council – Council Concludes Interactive Dialogue with the High Commissioner on his Annual Report

June 21st, 2023  •  Author:   Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights  •  29 minute read
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The Human Rights Council this morning held a panel discussion on human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar, hearing the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights say that the Myanmar authorities must ensure full legal recognition of the right to citizenship of all Rohingya people and issuance to them of appropriate civil documentation.

Nada Al-Nashif, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar had endured decades of persecution and systematic discrimination.  Today, more than one million were languishing in refugee camps in Bangladesh.  An estimated 600,000 remained in Myanmar, where they continued to be deprived of their basic rights.  The military coup of February 2021 and violent repression in many parts of Myanmar had inflicted more suffering on minority communities, including Rohingya Muslims.

Ms. Al-Nashif said that to achieve an inclusive future, the authorities in Myanmar needed to ensure a fully democratic, representative and accountable political system, repeal all discriminatory legislation, undertake dialogue aimed at national reconciliation, and implement measures that ensured the respect and protection of the human rights and dignity of each person without discrimination.  A fundamental step was the full legal recognition of the right to citizenship of all Rohingya people and issuance to them of appropriate civil documentation.

Yasmin Ullah, Chair of the Board at Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said there were currently over 1.3 million Rohingya refugees worldwide lacking protection, legal status, and a way out of this plight.  There needed to be recognition of Rohingya ethnic status.  Citizenship alone granted Rohingya no protection.  A truth commission would be a guide to how structural and institutional reform could take place to ensure no repetition of atrocities, violations of rights or discriminatory policy and practices could take place without accountability in Myanmar again.  There should not be any repatriation without such a framework in place.

Chris Lewa, Founder of the Arakan Project, said a permanent solution for the Rohingya to live peacefully in Myanmar would guarantee a sustainable return to their homeland.  Despite numerous United Nations resolutions, no progress had been made.  Following the coup in February 2021, the generals responsible for mass atrocities against the Rohingya were now de facto authorities.  In this context, insistence on expediting Rohingya repatriation was disturbing, as conditions for a safe, voluntary return were not in place.  Repatriation to Myanmar needed to be voluntary and should not be promoted until root causes were addressed and conditions for a safe return were in place.

Kyaw Win, Executive Director of Burma Human Rights Network, said since August 2017, the Myanmar military had held a campaign of killings, mass rape and arson against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine State, killing thousands and forcing over 730,000 to flee to Bangladesh.  The citizenship system was another clear violation of the human rights of Muslims in Burma.  The Network called on the United Nations Security Council to end its inaction and refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish a separate criminal tribunal to investigate and prosecute the full spectrum of atrocity crimes in Burma.

Mohshin Habib, Adjunct Professor at Laurentian University and Policy and Strategy Adviser at ASA Philippines Foundation, said Rohingya people had faced recurring military crackdowns and fled Myanmar in significant numbers in 1978, 1981, 1992, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017.  These recurring crackdowns had devastated Rohingya lives and made them the world’s most persecuted minority.  During the August 2017 crackdown, Tatmadaw burned 300 Rohingya villages, vandalised 36,000 businesses and snatched valuables from 26,000 families.  As a result, at least 800,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and took refuge in Bangladesh, joining those who fled earlier.  The three practical measures to repatriation were security, economic and education, and social capital theses.

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers deplored discrimination, marginalisation and persecution of the Rohingya community, which had caused the forced exodus of the community.  Speakers expressed deep concern about the human rights situation of the Rohingya.  Thousands had been raped or killed and forced to flee their homes.  The appalling, widespread violations of human rights, which could equate to crimes against humanity and war crimes, needed to cease, and perpetrators needed to be held accountable.  There needed to be reform of the 1982 Citizenship Law in line with international standards.

Other speakers said dialogue needed to be held between the Rohingya and the militia.  The principle of non-interference in domestic affairs needed to be upheld.  It was counterproductive to politicise the issue of internally displaced persons and to interfere in the domestic issues of Myanmar, including through International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice actions.

Speaking in the discussion on Myanmar were Norway on behalf of a group of countries, Pakistan on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Luxembourg on behalf of a group of countries, European Union, Kuwait, Australia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Türkiye, Bangladesh, Gambia, Costa Rica, United Kingdom, Venezuela, Senegal, Iran, South Africa, Russian Federation, Mauritania and Egypt.

Also speaking were the Islamic Human Rights Commission, Human Rights Watch, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, International Bar Association, Lidskoprávní organizace Práva a svobody obcanučů Turkmenistánu z.s., iuventum e.V., INHR, and Association Ma’onah for Human Rights and Immigration.

At the beginning of the meeting, the Council concluded the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner for Human Rights on his annual report which began yesterday.  A summary can be found here.

Volker Türk, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, in concluding remarks, thanked all delegations and non-governmental organizations for contributing to the debate, which had been constructive.  There were two anniversaries this year, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration, which were opportunities to reflect on universality and indivisibility.  Mr. Türk took note with appreciation all States that had reported cooperation with components of the human rights ecosystem and his Office.  To achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, there could not be exclusion or stigmatisation of minority groups, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.  The world needed to take a clear stance against racism, xenophobia and all other forms of discrimination.

In the discussion, some speakers said the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights presented a valuable opportunity to take stock of opportunities and challenges and commit to improving and enhancing national frameworks in line with international human rights obligations.  Some speakers were deeply concerned by the regression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights in many countries.  A number of speakers noted that climate change would continue to pose great threats to the human rights of both present and future generations.  During the debate, speakers denounced human rights violations committed in many countries, regions and territories.

Speaking in the interactive dialogue with the High Commissioner were Ghana, Cambodia, Burundi, Barbados, Trinidad and Tobago, Nicaragua, Ireland, New Zealand, Tunisia, Namibia, Honduras, Uganda, Hungary and Eritrea.

Also speaking were Right Livelihood Award Foundation, World Federation of Ukrainian Women’s Organizations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Every Casualty Worldwide, International Commission of Jurists, East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project, Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development, Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy, and Il Cenacolo.

The webcast of the Human Rights Council meetings can be found here.  All meeting summaries can be found here.  Documents and reports related to the Human Rights Council’s fifty-third regular session can be found here.

The Council will next meet this afternoon at 3 p.m. to hear the presentation of the report of the Secretary-General on the Islamic Republic of Iran, and the oral updates of the High Commissioner and his Office on Nicaragua and on Sri Lanka, followed by an interactive dialogue with the Independent Expert on protection against violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Interactive Dialogue on the Annual Report of the High Commissioner for Human Rights

The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights presented his global update on his annual report on Monday, 19 June, and the interactive dialogue started on Tuesday, 20 June.

Discussion

In the discussion, some speakers, among other things, said the seventy-fifth anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights presented a valuable opportunity to take stock of opportunities and challenges and commit to improving and enhancing national frameworks in line with international human rights obligations.  This was the time to collectively re-commit to respecting, protecting and fulfilling the human rights of all.  States needed to work to ensure that the vision of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights was realised for all persons, everywhere, in all their diversity.

Cooperation between Member States and international human rights bodies played a crucial role in technical assistance and capacity building.  Cooperation was a two-way process; it was imperative that human rights bodies worked together and engaged in constructive and genuine dialogue.  Some speakers said that the Council had a crucial role in addressing shortcomings in the protection and promotion of human rights, which could only be achieved by engaging in open dialogue, working together constructively while respecting each other, and avoiding overpoliticisation.  One speaker said there was a need to respond in diverse cultural contexts and called for the respect for the sovereign rights of countries as there should be no foreign interference in domestic affairs.

Some speakers expressed deep concern at human rights violations around the world, despite the efforts of the Council and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to address them.  A number of speakers were deeply concerned by the regression of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex rights in many countries, expressing concern at legislation which restricted the rights of these people.  States needed to promote and protect the rights of all people, regardless of their sexual orientation or gender identity.  All States should take steps to address sexual and gender-based violence and remove barriers to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

A number of speakers noted that climate change would continue to pose great threats to the human rights of both present and future generations.  The Office was commended for providing technical assistance, including by helping countries with the development of policies on climate change mobility.  The High Commissioner and his team were encouraged to pursue further efforts aimed at ensuring that States incorporated a human rights-based approach to frameworks which sought to address the negative impacts of climate change.

Some speakers said the Council needed to take all possible measures to protect the rights of women, girls, and persons of diverse gender identities and sexual orientations, especially those from marginalised communities, in the face of increasing pushback against agreed language on gender and sexual and reproductive rights.  Such roll-back was putting hard-won gains at risk, and along with it, the protection of the lives and rights of millions of people around the world.

During the discussion, many speakers denounced human rights violations committed in many countries, regions and territories, noting situations of armed conflict; overpoliticisation; restrictions on the rights of linguistic and indigenous minorities; anti-homosexuality legislation; impediment of civil and political rights; the removal of indigenous populations; the shrinking of civic space; torture; violations against women and girls; and attacks on human rights defenders, lawyers, journalists and activists.

Speakers urged the Office of the High Commissioner to promote universal respect for both individual and collective rights.  The High Commissioner should ensure that all current and future Office field presences consistently recorded and periodically reported publicly on all casualties of armed conflict and violence occurring within their remit.  The human rights pillar remained chronically underfunded, while the need for a well-resourced and effective international human rights framework continued to increase.

Concluding Remarks

VOLKER TÜRK, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, thanked all delegations and non-governmental organizations for contributing to the debate, which had been constructive.  There were two anniversaries this year, of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Vienna Declaration, which were opportunities to reflect on universality and indivisibility.  All States needed to treat human rights on an equal footing.  It was the duty of States to promote and protect all human rights and fundamental freedoms.  However, there were certain statements that cast doubt on that consensus.  The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights promoted all human rights stemming from the Charter of the United Nations.  The Charter dealt with sovereignty issues.  Human rights started at home.  Issues needed to be examined from global, regional and national dimensions.  Dialogue could not be empty formulas.  There was a need for uncomfortable conversations for the sake of human rights.  Cooperation and collaboration were imperative.

Mr. Türk noted with appreciation all States that had reported cooperation with components of the human rights ecosystem and his Office.  The High Commissioner had a duty to remove obstacles and promote the implementation of all human rights in all parts of the world.  He expressed hope that all States would accept this role and cooperate with the mandate.  He noted that the voluntary fund that dealt with Universal Periodic Review follow-up was in urgent need of support.

Mr. Türk said his Office was in discussion with authorities of both countries to re-establish a presence in the Western Sahara territory.  His Office continued to encourage the relaxation of unilateral coercive measures to support the most vulnerable segments of populations.  Mr. Türk expressed his strong commitment to supporting small island States.  Extra funding resources were required to provide sufficient support.  Further, he said, the Office aimed to support and facilitate dialogue on the rights of indigenous communities.

The Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights aimed to strengthen its mandate.  There were key issues that it would focus on in future, including accountability, transitional justice, and rights in the digital sphere.  The Office would soon hold an event to assess its own functions.

In closing, Mr. Türk said that to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals, there could not be exclusion or stigmatisation of minority groups, including the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex community.  The world needed to take a clear stance against racism, xenophobia and all other forms of discrimination.

Panel Discussion on the Measures Necessary to Find Durable Solutions to the Rohingya Crisis and to End All Forms of Human Rights Violations and Abuses against Rohingya Muslims and Other Minorities in Myanmar

Opening Statement by the Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights

NADA AL-NASHIF, United Nations Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar had endured decades of persecution and systematic discrimination.  Today, more than one million were languishing in refugee camps in Bangladesh.  An estimated 600,000 remained in Myanmar, where they continued to be deprived of their basic rights.  The military coup of February 2021 and violent repression in many parts of Myanmar had inflicted more suffering on minority communities, including Rohingya Muslims.  In addition, last month Cyclone Mocha – the most powerful storm to hit the region in a decade – raged through the country.  The military had put in place a system of physical and administrative restrictions on the conduct of humanitarian operations.  People were reportedly living in forests and improvised shelters without any access to life-saving food, medicine and services.

At the end of last year, the Security Council adopted its first resolution on Myanmar, in which it underscored the need to create conditions necessary for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons.  Sadly, those conditions did not currently exist on the ground.

To achieve an inclusive future, the authorities in Myanmar needed to ensure a fully democratic, representative and accountable political system, repeal all discriminatory legislation, undertake dialogue aimed at national reconciliation, and implement measures that ensured the respect and protection of the human rights and dignity of each person without discrimination.  A fundamental step was the full legal recognition of the right to citizenship of all Rohingya people and issuance to them of appropriate civil documentation.

Many Rohingya continued to flee to safer countries, often taking immense risks, including dangerous sea crossings.  According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, more than 3,500 Rohingya attempted deadly sea crossings in 2022, a 360 per cent increase compared to 2021.  At least 348 Rohingya died while making these sea crossings in 2022.  Ms. Al-Nashif expressed solidarity with and support to Bangladesh for providing refuge to more than one million Rohingya refugees, and commended countries in the region, such as Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, for providing protection and humanitarian assistance to Rohingya who arrived by boat.  Since March this year, due to shortfalls in funding, the World Food Programme had had to sharply reduce food rations in the camps twice, which had further compounded the refugees’ hardship.

In the face of the impunity enjoyed by the Myanmar military for past and present violations and abuses against the Rohingya, Ms. Al-Nashif expressed full support for the ongoing accountability efforts at the international level.  The complaint brought by the Gambia against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice was but one step in this direction.  She expressed hope that the Human Rights Council would redouble its support in the direction of accountability initiatives.

Statements by the Panellists

YASMIN ULLAH, Chair of the Board at Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said she was a member of the Rohingya community who had to flee from violence and systemic oppression in Myanmar as a young child along with her family in 1995.  Rohingyas had been driven out for decades under oppressive arbitrary policy and practices by Burmese authorities.  There were currently over 1.3 million Rohingya refugees worldwide lacking protection, legal status, and a way out of this plight.  Only a domestic change in Myanmar would lead to long term peace and success.  However, the international community’s support in breaking through the barriers of silence on the atrocities committed against the Rohingya and ensuring that the community were never forgotten was vital.

Ms. Ullah said she was working on solutions that would enable people from her community to have food to eat, education, medical treatment and tangible protections.  There needed to be recognition of Rohingya ethnic status.  Citizenship alone granted Rohingya no protection.  Rohingya had been systematically erased and excluded from social, economic, and political participation as a collective ethnic group.  Rohingya were being traded from refugee camps to concentration camps in their homeland.  Rohingya needed to be acknowledged as an indigenous ethnic nationality of Myanmar throughout history and now.

Myanmar needed a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as part of the transitional justice process.  Since democratic transition in Myanmar occurred under circumstances of compromise and impunity, what had happened to Rohingya had recurred all over the country.  Myanmar needed to be reformed at every level in all institutions.  The 2017 genocidal campaign and the 2021 attempted coup were glaring evidence of what happened when there was no transitional justice plan during a transition period.  Denial of truths and refusal to create institutional reforms had led Myanmar into further violations of fundamental rights.  A truth commission would be a guide to how structural and institutional reform could take place to ensure that no repetition of atrocities, violations of rights or discriminatory policy and practices could take place without accountability in Myanmar again.  There should not be any repatriation without such a framework in place.

CHRIS LEWA, Founder of the Arakan Project, said a permanent solution for the Rohingya to live peacefully in Myanmar would guarantee a sustainable return to their homeland.  Despite numerous United Nations resolutions, no progress had been made.  Following the coup in February 2021, the generals responsible for mass atrocities against the Rohingya were now de facto authorities.  In this context, insistence on expediting Rohingya repatriation was disturbing, as conditions for a safe, voluntary return were not in place.  Citizenship and other root causes had not been addressed, and since the coup, the junta had arrested and sentenced more than 3,500 Rohingya for unauthorised travel.  Durable solutions for internally displaced persons in Myanmar needed be a precondition before any repatriation started from Bangladesh.  The bilateral pilot repatriation plan for about 1,100 Rohingya involved resettlement to 15 relocation sites, however, some families cleared for return were left without option to go back to their village of origin.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees had said that conditions were not conducive for a return in safety and dignity.

There had been some positive developments in Myanmar.  In 2021, the National Unity Government recognised the Rohingya’s entitlement to Myanmar’s citizenship, and appointed a Rohingya adviser, which was a breakthrough.  The Arakan Army altered their rhetoric and formed Rohingya Village Committees, with mixed results.  In August, Bangladesh granted permission for skills development activities.  However, it was worrying that funding shortfalls had forced the World Food Programme to reduce monthly food rations in June.  Even before these food cuts, 12 per cent of children were severely malnourished.  It was recommended that the international community prioritise the Rohingya amid global challenges, and support international accountability.  Repatriation to Myanmar needed to be voluntary and should not be promoted until root causes were addressed and conditions for a safe return were in place.  Returnees should not be confined to ‘relocation’ sites.  Efforts should also focus on improving conditions for Rohingya refugees in host countries.  Alternative durable solutions such as resettlement to third countries and complementary pathways should be vigorously pursued.

KYAW WIN, Executive Director of Burma Human Rights Network , said the Network had been documenting human rights violations in Burma.  Since August 2017, the Myanmar military had held a campaign of killings, mass rape and arson against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state, killing thousands and forcing over 730,000 to flee to Bangladesh.  The situation had been neglected internationally and was getting worse and worse every day.  The junta’s restrictions of movement of the Rohingya were clear violations of International Court of Justice provisional measures aimed at preventing genocidal acts against the Rohingya.  The citizenship system was another clear violation of the human rights of Muslims in Burma.  It limited Muslims’ ability to obtain citizenship and access basic State services.

Hate speech was currently a dangerous phenomenon in Burma.  The Network had documented over 600 incidents of hate speech against Muslims over the past year.  Mosques and other religious sites had been destroyed.  The 1982 citizenship law made every Muslim in Burma a foreigner.  This law breached human rights more than any other law in the State.  The international community had failed to acknowledge the illegality of this law.  As long as the military enjoyed complete impunity for their actions, unyielding oppression of the Rohingya and other minorities would continue unabated.  The time to close this impunity gap was now.

The Network called on the United Nations Security Council to end its inaction and refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or establish a separate criminal tribunal to investigate and prosecute the full spectrum of atrocity crimes in Burma.  States needed to impose targeted economic sanctions against the Myanmar military, and pursue international legal action against the junta.  States and international companies needed to stop the supply and transfer of arms to the Myanmar military.  Finally, Myanmar’s neighbouring States, including India, Thailand, Indonesia and Bangladesh, needed to devise a comprehensive regional response to the refugee crisis; provide protection, support, and humanitarian and legal aid to all refugees fleeing Myanmar; and authorise emergency cross-border aid to internally displaced people in Myanmar.

MOHSHIN HABIB, Adjunct Professor at Laurentian University and Policy and Strategy Adviser at ASA Philippines Foundation, said Rohingya people had faced recurring military crackdowns and fled Myanmar in significant numbers in 1978, 1981, 1992, 2012, 2015, 2016 and 2017.  These recurring crackdowns had devastated Rohingya lives and made them the world’s most persecuted minority.  During the August 2017 crackdown, Tatmadaw burned 300 Rohingya villages, vandalised 36,000 businesses and snatched valuables from 26,000 families.  Research estimated that 25,000 people were murdered, 18,000 raped, 43,000 received gunshot wounds, and 116,000 were beaten, all inflicted by security forces under the control of the Myanmar authorities.  As a result, at least 800,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar and took refuge in Bangladesh, joining those who fled earlier.

The International State Crime Initiatives claimed that a leaked document adopted by the Myanmar regime in 1988 revealed the State Peace and Development Council adopted an 11-point “Rohingya extermination plan”, of which the first eight elements had been effectively instituted.  The recent coup had made it impossible for a successful repatriation attempt.  Meanwhile, the Bangladesh campsites had become the most densely populated area globally, causing environmental degradation and posing significant economic, health and reputational consequences for Bangladesh.  There was also evidence of human and drug trafficking syndicates operating on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, posing significant security risks and a broader regional geopolitical crisis risk.

Although mindful of the United Nations Special Rapporteur’s 8 June 2023 recommendation to “immediately suspend” pilot repatriation of Rohingyas due to “serious risk” for their life and freedom, the durable solution still appeared to be eventually repatriating Rohingyas to Myanmar.  The three practical measures to repatriation were security, economic and education, and social capital theses.  Financial reparation would provide a primary financial means for Rohingyas required to repatriate, resettle and rehabilitate to restore their original state of economic life in Myanmar; 9.5 billion United States dollars were assessed as fair compensation as of June 2023.

Discussion

In the ensuing discussion, many speakers, among other things, deplored discrimination, marginalisation and persecution of the Rohingya community, which had caused the forced exodus of the community.  Speakers expressed deep concern about the human rights situation of the Rohingya.  Thousands had been raped or killed and forced to flee their homes.  The appalling, widespread violations of human rights, which could equate to crimes against humanity and war crimes, needed to cease, and perpetrators needed to be held accountable.  The rule of law needed to be upheld.  Discriminatory ideologies, denial of citizenship and restrictions on movement were part of the root causes of the crisis.  Diplomatic pressure needed to be asserted on the militia to cease the violence and persecution that they were committing in Myanmar.  Genocide needed to never occur again.

There needed to be reform of the 1982 citizenship law in line with international standards.  Some speakers called for the implementation of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Five Point Consensus solution to the crisis.  Member States and civil society needed to unite in their response to the dire situation of the Rohingya.  Some speakers said that the junta was violating international decisions regarding Myanmar every day with impunity.  Accountability and transitional justice measures needed to be introduced to prevent impunity and ensure accountability for abuses.  The military regime had cracked down on the civil space in Myanmar, persecuting journalists and human rights defenders critical of the regime.  The rights of journalists and human rights defenders needed to be protected.

There were increasing numbers of refugees and asylum seekers fleeing Myanmar.  Some speakers said that many Rohingya refugees were turned back by neighbouring countries, including Bangladesh.  Those speakers called on all States to respect the principles of non-refoulement.  Some speakers said there needed to be an immediate return of Rohingya from neighbouring countries under conditions ensuring the rights of returning Rohingya.  Other speakers said that returns needed to be carried out on a safe, voluntary basis.  Cuts to food rations for refugees provided by the World Food Programme were alarming.  Such cuts had had a devasting effect.  Speakers encouraged the international community to provide increased humanitarian support to reduce the burden on Bangladesh and to support it to provide shelter for the Rohingya.

Some speakers expressed serious concern that the junta continued to block humanitarian access to Rohingya communities.  Speakers called on the Myanmar militia to ensure full, unimpeded humanitarian access to Rohingya refugee camps.  Movement restrictions also hindered the Rohingya’s ability to obtain such basic needs.  Concrete steps were needed to aid Rohingya to obtain basic food, services and employment.  Some speakers recalled that Cyclone Mocha had devastated the Rohingya refugee population, and called for increased support in response to the disaster.

A number of speakers said the pilot repatriation project agreed between Bangladesh and Myanmar would help to address the crisis and ensure the voluntary return of the Rohingya to Myanmar.  Other speakers said that the project would only deepen the crisis by allowing the military to commit further violations of the rights of the repatriated Rohingya.  Some speakers said dialogue needed to be held between the Rohingya and the militia.  Imposing outside solutions would not solve the crisis.  Dialogue needed to be carried out based on existing bilateral agreements.  The principle of non-interference in domestic affairs needed to be upheld.  It was counterproductive to politicise the issue of internally displaced persons and to interfere in the domestic issues of Myanmar, including through International Criminal Court and International Court of Justice actions.

Questions were asked on actions needed to ensure that this moment did not become a missed opportunity; on measures to improve the situation of Rohingya in Myanmar and in Bangladesh, especially in camps for refugees and internally displaced persons; on steps that developed countries could take to provide additional support to the Rohingya; on steps to support the safe repatriation of the Rohingya and other Muslims; on measures to ensure accountability for human rights violations and address their root causes, and to put an end to impunity; and on how the international community could ensure the participation and amplify the voices of the Rohingya in developing measures to address the crisis.

Concluding Remarks

NADA AL-NASHIF, Deputy High Commissioner for Human Rights, said there needed to be a focus on immediate support to Rohingya still in Myanmar, and any transition from the camps in Rakhine needed to be done in coordination with the camps themselves.  They also needed to ensure that more humanitarian funds were invested in Bangladesh.  There was a need to change the citizenship law and create durable conditions for the return of Rohingya, as well as increase resettlement pathways for the most vulnerable groups.  Accountability options needed to be pursued.

YASMIN ULLAH, Chair of the Board at Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, said it was important to ensure that displaced Rohingya be cared for in a dignified fashion, understanding they were also humans.  It was important that the Association of Southeast Asian Nations Five Point Consensus was expanded.  Multiple conversations had been held with Indonesian institutions, and there was a commitment to ensure the Five Point Consensus expanded to include cross-border aid, and improve upon the existing women, peace and security framework.  There were multiple ways to ensure Rohingya were centred in all these discussions.  The Council needed to centre Rohingya in all conversations on Myanmar, and they should not be excluded.  There could not just be lip service, there needed to be concrete plans and actions.  The dictatorship and living under the junta regime for decades was a political and ideological issue.  Transitional justice needed to be at the centre of all future plannings.  Civil society groups were the foundation of Myanmar society.  There should not be repatriation of Rohingya to go right back to the hands of the perpetrators.

CHRIS LEWA, Founder of the Arakan Project, said building trust was necessary.  The Rohingya advisor had no official position within the Cabinet of Myanmar; this was something which could be changed.  There was significant follow-up which could be done to push the National Unity Government to take action on their words, including dialogue on how to amend the citizenship law.  The Arakan army had a nationalist agenda and they needed to be open to undertaking reforms.  There had been progress; the army had provided assistance to villages in the wake of Cyclone Mocha.  It was still concerning to hear governments in the room discussing the repatriation project, as this should not happen.  If Rohingya wanted to return, with informed consent, they should be able to do so.  It was important that Rohingya were involved in meaningful dialogue, and that they were heard.  There needed to be a focus on providing better conditions for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, Malaysia, and other countries.

KYAW WIN, Executive Director of Burma Human Rights Network, said that since 1962, the military had been leading anti-Muslim policies that had led to the atrocities of today.  After the 2021 revolution, people started to realise how the military had implemented those ideologies.  In southern Burma, 70 per cent of the Muslim community did not have citizenship.  This population could influx to neighbouring countries again, and there could be more mass atrocities.  The international community needed to impose an immediate arms embargo against the military.  The military was killing civilians in clear breach of international law.  Impunity needed to end.

Millions of refugees were struggling to survive.  To end impunity, cases in the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court were important, and there were several other measures that could be taken in international fora.  Members of the Rohingya community needed support to stand on their own two feet.  Repatriations should not occur while conditions were unsafe for the Rohingya.  The Rohingya had great potential but needed help.  There were several villages in central Burma that had been burned to the ground.  The people of Burma could not stop the military regime without the help of the international community.

MOHSHIN HABIB, Adjunct Professor at Laurentian University and Policy and Strategy Adviser at ASA Philippines Foundation, said despite increasing polarisation in world politics, the international community continued to impose trade sanctions and embargos on Myanmar.  However, these were not universal, and there were members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations that were not imposing such sanctions.  These States needed to do more to put pressure on the military regime and support the Rohingya.  International Court of Justice actions and other external measures could also add more pressure on the militia and lead to positive outcomes.  Domestically, the Myanmar military regime needed to improve its human rights record by acknowledging past abuses and genocide against the Rohingya.  They needed to recognise the Rohingya as an ethnic minority.  Domestic and international recognition of the Rohingya and their rights, including their right to citizenship, was needed.

Link: https://www.ungeneva.org/en/news-media/meeting-summary/2023/06/des-retours-durables-des-refugies-rohingya-sont-impossibles-tant


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