No justice, no freedom for Rohingya in Myanmar: HRW

Rohingya Muslims are still awaiting justice and protection of their rights five years after Myanmar’s military launched a massive campaign of massacres, rapes and arson in northern Rakhine state on August 25, 2017, says Human Rights Watch (HRW).

More than 730,000 Rohingya have fled to precarious, flood-prone camps in Bangladesh, while around 600,000 remain under oppressive rule in Myanmar, a press release on Wednesday read.

No one has been held accountable for crimes against humanity and acts of genocide committed against the Rohingya population.

This anniversary should inspire the governments concerned to take concrete steps to hold the Myanmar military to account and ensure justice and safety for the Rohingya in Bangladesh, Myanmar and across the region.

“Governments should mark the fifth anniversary of the devastating campaign against the Rohingya with a coordinated international strategy for accountability and justice that builds on the contribution of the Rohingya,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“Donors must help Rohingya refugees to study and work freely and safely so that they can build an independent and self-sufficient future.”

Since August 2017, Human Rights Watch has interviewed hundreds of Rohingya in Bangladesh who fled atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military.

They described incidents in which soldiers systematically killed and raped villagers before setting fire to their homes. In total, the security forces killed thousands of people and burned nearly 400 villages.

Those who fled to neighboring Bangladesh joined a few hundred thousand refugees who had fled previous waves of violence and persecution.

“Myanmar authorities brutalized us,” said Abdul Halim, 30, a Rohingya refugee in Bangladesh. “They burned our houses, raped our mothers and sisters, burned our children.

“We fled to Bangladesh to escape this brutality. Now I have been living in Kutupalong camp for five years.” Abdul carried his very sick mother on his back when they fled Myanmar in 2017.

She died shortly after reaching Bangladesh.

Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State face systematic abuses that amount to crimes against humanity of apartheid, persecution and deprivation of liberty.

They are confined to camps and villages with no freedom of movement and deprived of access to adequate food, health care, education and livelihoods.

“Since we were children in Myanmar, we never had any freedom,” Abdul said. “They called me ‘nowa kalar’ [a slur for Muslims]to say that we are like animals.”

The Rohingya are effectively denied citizenship under Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Act, rendering them stateless. The 2017 atrocities were rooted in decades of state repression, discrimination and violence.

“In Myanmar, we have struggled all our lives,” said Hasina Hatu, 40. “When we were raising goats, the border guards would take away the goats.

“When we raised cattle, they took away the cattle. When we cultivated rice fields, they took away the rice.” Hasina’s father died after falling down a muddy slope while on the run in 2017.

In February 2021, the generals who had orchestrated the atrocities against the Rohingya staged a coup and arrested Myanmar’s elected civilian leaders.

The military junta responded to the mass protests with a nationwide campaign of massacres, torture, arbitrary arrests and indiscriminate attacks that constituted crimes against humanity and, in conflict zones, war crimes.

Military units that had been implicated in the 2017 atrocities – since sanctioned by the US and UK – have been deployed in new operations across the country.

The junta has imposed new movement restrictions and aid blockades on Rohingya camps and villages, increasing water scarcity and food shortages, as well as disease and malnutrition.

“Since the coup, security forces have arrested around 2,000 Rohingya, including hundreds of children, for ‘unauthorized travel’.

Many were sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison. Intensified fighting between the Myanmar army and the ethnic Arakan army has also left the Rohingya caught in the crossfire.

In Bangladesh, an estimated one million Rohingya refugees live in sprawling, overcrowded camps in Cox’s Bazar and the remote silt island of Bhashan Char.

For five years, the government of Bangladesh has upheld the international principle of non-refoulement, the right of refugees not to be returned to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.

However, authorities in Bangladesh have recently intensified restrictions on livelihoods, travel and education, making many refugees feel unwanted and unsafe.

Authorities closed community-run schools, arbitrarily destroyed shops and imposed new barriers to travel.

“If our children cannot be educated here in Bangladesh either, then wherever we go we will always be persecuted,” Abdul said.

Bangladeshi authorities have moved around 28,000 Rohingya to Bhasan Char, where they face severe movement restrictions, food and medicine shortages and abuse by security forces.

Despite the involvement of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), many of them continue to be transferred without their full and informed consent and have been prevented from returning to the mainland.

Bangladeshi authorities should lift new restrictions and end forced relocations of refugees, HRW added.

“How long are we going to live like this? Hasine said. “I don’t think the world will solve our condition.”

The 2022 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis has only received a quarter of the requested $881 million in funding.

Donors, including the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and Australia, should increase their funding to meet the massive needs of the refugee population to help Bangladesh support Rohingya and local communities. ‘welcome.

Bangladesh’s government and Myanmar’s junta resumed repatriation talks, announcing joint plans in January to “quickly complete the verification process”.

Two previous repatriation attempts have failed, with Rohingya refugees unwilling to return due to ongoing persecution and abuse in Myanmar. Michelle Bachelet, the outgoing UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, announced on August 17, after a visit to Cox’s Bazar, that “the current situation across the border means that the conditions are not conducive to returns”.

“We want to go back to Myanmar but to go there we want justice,” said 21-year-old Mohammad Ayaz. “How long will we have to live in a tarpaulin house? It’s been five years. Who knows how long we have left to live here. Who knows if the world will help us get justice or not.” Mohammad was shot while fleeing his village of Tula Toli on August 30, 2017.

At least 12 members of his family, including his parents and sisters, were killed.

In Malaysia, India and Thailand, thousands of Rohingya refugees are held indefinitely in immigration detention sites or live without adequate support and protection.

The international response to the 2017 violence was fragmented and hesitant, with governments favoring quiet diplomacy that achieved little, rather than strategic measures to exert real pressure on the military, Human Rights Watch said.

Creating the conditions for the voluntary, safe and dignified return of Rohingya refugees will require a cohesive international response to establish a rights-respecting regime in Myanmar and achieve justice for the crimes committed in Rakhine State.

A future Myanmar under democratic civilian rule will entail full citizenship rights for the Rohingya and reparations for atrocities, including stolen or destroyed land and property.

The UN Security Council should end its inaction due to early Chinese and Russian vetoes and urgently negotiate a resolution to institute a comprehensive arms embargo against Myanmar, refer the situation to the Court criminal justice system and impose targeted sanctions on the junta and the armed forces. conglomerates.

“What are we waiting for?” said a US diplomat in a speech to a Security Council meeting in 2021. “The longer we delay, the more people die. This council fails in our collective responsibility to safeguard international peace and security. And it leaves fall the Burmese people.”

The US, UK, EU and other governments should together step up international sanctions to deprive Myanmar’s military of revenue that funds its abusive operations, including in Rakhine State. Governments are expected to target the junta’s gas revenue, its largest source of foreign revenue, totaling around $1 billion in annual profits.

The EU sanctioned the junta-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise in February, but other governments have so far failed to follow suit. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) should urgently abandon its failed five-point consensus response to the crisis and instead coordinate strong action against the junta’s abuses.

“We hope that with the help of foreign governments and Bangladesh, we can get our rights back,” Abdul said. “That’s what we want.”

Governments should explore all avenues of justice and accountability for the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military, including formally supporting the case under the Genocide Convention brought by The Gambia against Myanmar at the International Court of justice. Canada and the Netherlands have publicly declared their intention to support the procedure.

Governments should also actively pursue investigations and prosecutions under the principle of universal jurisdiction, a path to justice for crimes so serious that all states have an interest in addressing them.

Argentinian justice has opened an investigation into the atrocities committed by Myanmar against the Rohingyas under universal jurisdiction.

“Myanmar’s junta killing of protesters, bombing of civilians and other abuses reflect to a large extent the failure to hold the generals accountable for their atrocities five years ago,” Pearson said.

“Influential governments should overcome their past mistakes and take strong action to cut off the flow of weapons and revenue that underpins the junta’s ongoing crimes,” she added.

Elna M. Lemons