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Six years after Rohingya genocide, human rights activists call for action

International advocacy group Human Rights Watch condemns UN Security Council inaction and humanitarian aid cuts for ‘leaving Rohingya in even more desperate straits’

The military generals responsible for acts of genocide and crimes against humanity perpetrated against Myanmar’s Rohingya population remain unpunished more than half a decade later, Human Rights Watch (HRW) declared on Sunday, emphasising that some 1 million affected refugees still have little hope of returning home safely. 

This Friday, August 25, will mark the six-year anniversary of the date the Myanmar military launched a campaign of mass atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine State. This genocidal crusade saw an estimated 25,000 people killed and hundreds of thousands displaced to what has since become the world’s biggest refugee camp in Bangladesh.

More than 730,000 Rohingya now live in the sprawling camps of Cox’s Bazar, under tightening measures implemented by security forces and growing violence by armed groups. Some 600,000 more remain in Myanmar, their movement widely restricted by junta authorities under a system of apartheid, HRW said. 

In a statement released on Sunday, HRW condemned the United Nations Security Council’s failure not only to hold those responsible for such atrocities to account, but also to maintain adequate aid to support the victims.

“Rohingya on both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border are trapped in stateless purgatory, denied their most basic rights, awaiting justice and the chance to go home,” said Shayna Bauchner, Asia researcher at HRW. “Instead of addressing these issues head on, UN Security Council inaction and government aid cutbacks are leaving Rohingya in even more desperate straits.”

HRW noted that the 2023 UN Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya humanitarian crisis has so far received just 29 percent of the US$876 million sought in donor contributions, prompting the World Food Programme to cut Rohingya food rations by a third since February. Refugees now receive just $8 per month through the programme, fuelling growing epidemics of malnutrition and disease. 

At the same time, Bangladeshi authorities have been accused of harassing, oppressing and exploiting refugees in their care—subjecting them to arbitrary detention and violence and strictly restraining their freedom to move, work and study within the camps. Bauchner noted in May 2023 that “[a]buses by police in the Cox’s Bazar camps have left Rohingya refugees suffering at the hands of the very forces who are supposed to protect them.”

Earlier this month, the NGO Fortify Rights published a report detailing some of these abuses, based on statements from more than a dozen victims of torture, beatings and extortion. The accounts revealed the ways in which Bangladesh police have exploited Rohingya refugees, using them as “human ATMs,” according to Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith, “by inflicting severe physical and mental pain to demand corrupt payments.”

Another 30,000 Rohingya have been forcibly relocated to the isolated silt island Bhasan Char, where they face similar issues of restricted movement and food and medicine shortages.

The Bangladesh authorities, for their part, have initiated steps with the Burmese military junta to return the Rohingya refugees to Rakhine State, claiming repatriation is the only solution to the compounding crises they face. HRW denounced this position as premature and dangerous.

“Moving ahead with repatriating Rohingya now would mean sending refugees back to the control of a ruthless and repressive junta, setting the stage for the next devastating exodus,” said Bauchner. “Building conditions for the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of Rohingya will need a coordinated international response to establish rights-respecting civilian rule in Myanmar and achieve justice for past atrocities.”

Instead, HRW called on the UN and concerned governments, including those in the United States, United Kingdom, European Union and Australia, to increase aid funding and resettlement opportunities while continuing to insist that conditions for the safe, sustainable, and dignified return of Rohingya to Myanmar do not currently exist.

“I dream of being able to go back to my own country Myanmar, to my village and home, with full rights of citizenship and everything else that a person deserves,” one refugee told HRW. 

Another put it more starkly.

“We have lost six years here,” said the Rohingya woman. “I am human. Why have I been treated this way throughout my life?”

“I have millions of these thoughts every day.”

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