Oral update of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on Situation of human rights of Rohingya people (A/HRC/38/CRP.2)
Human Rights Council
18 June - 06 July 2018
Agenda item 2
Annual report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and reports of the Office of the High Commissioner and the Secretary-General
This update on the situation of the Rohingya people is presented pursuant to Human Rights Council resolution S-27/1 which requested the High Commissioner to track progress concerning the human rights situation of the Rohingya and to provide oral updates, including at the thirty-eighth session of the Human Rights Council.
The Human Rights Council adopted resolution S-27/1 at a special session held on 5 December 2017 in the context of the outbreak of violence in Rakhine State in October 2016 and August 2017 that caused the displacement of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya civilians to Bangladesh, and following reports of grave human rights violations and abuses carried out in a systematic, targeted and deliberate manner by the Myanmar security forces, assisted by non-State actors in Rakhine State. This update is delivered in the context of immense humanitarian challenges in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, resulting from these violations.
The High Commissioner recalls the statement on Myanmar delivered by the President of the Security Council on 6 November 2017. He also recalls the General Assembly resolutions on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, particularly Assembly resolution 72/248 adopted on 24 December 2017, as well as the resolutions of the Human Rights Council, the latest being resolution 37/32 of 23 March 2018. Since the special session of December 2017, the independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar and the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar have provided updates to the Human Rights Council while not being allowed access to Myanmar.
In June 2018, following a request for information by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), the Government of Myanmar provided updates on the status of implementation of the Recommendations of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine State (“Rakhine Commission”).
This oral update outlines the current humanitarian situation facing refugees in Cox’s Bazar; developments pertaining to repatriation of those refugees to Myanmar; the current situation in Rakhine State; the root causes of the current crisis, including the denial of citizenship to the Rohingya in Myanmar; and advocacy of racial and religious hatred against the Rohingya in their home country.
Humanitarian situation 6. As of 31 May 2018, 721,641 refugees from Myanmar had arrived in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, since the beginning of so-called “clearance operations” conducted by Myanmar security forces in northern Rakhine from August 2017.1 They have joined 166,020 Rohingya who had sought protection in Bangladesh from previous episodes of violence, nearly half of whom were driven from their homes during the 1991-1992 Phi Thaya, or “Clean and Beautiful Nation”, military operation.2 These refugees live in camps and settlements throughout the district of Cox’s Bazar. The biggest of these camps houses over 700,000 people, making it the largest refugee camp in the world, and the fourth largest city in Bangladesh, a country of 166 million.
The situation of the refugees in the camps is precarious. It is estimated that 215,000 live in areas at risk of flooding and/or landslides.3 A single day of rain in June flooded vast areas of the camp. Further floods pose a grave risk to services and facilities, including by threatening to overflow latrines which would lead to a contamination of water-wells and may trigger a widespread outbreak of waterborne diseases. In the pre-monsoon period, within one week, landslides in the camps damaged 1,152 shelters, affecting 9,748 people.4 Five refugees have already died this year as a result of landslides, three of whom were children aged eight or under. The entire refugee population lacks access to structures that are safe during high winds or cyclones. An additional 1,500 acres of land is needed to relocate those living in areas most threatened by floods and landslides.
Camp conditions are dire and the humanitarian action is perilously under-funded. As of 21 June 2018, only 22 per cent of the $950 million needed for the Joint Humanitarian Response Plan has been secured. By sector, only 13 per cent of the funds required to meet the health needs of the refugee population had been secured; 15 per cent of that needed to ensure food security; and 25 per cent of the entire education budget.
Humanitarian needs are growing rapidly: As of mid-May, 16,000 babies were born in the camps since 25 August 2017 - an average of 60 a day - of whom only 3,000 were born in health facilities.5 With 1 June 2018 marking 40 weeks since 25 August, pregnancies coming to term are likely to include those resulting from rape that allegedly occurred during the clearance operations. With only a fraction of births occurring in health facilities, and given the stigma generally affecting victims of sexual violence, it is difficult to estimate the number of births resulting from rape. What is clear is that support for de-stigmatization programmes for victims of sexual violence and their children is critical, including for those who may be rejected by their families.
In opening its border to the Rohingya last year, Bangladesh set an example for all governments to follow. However, the monsoon season has already highlighted how precarious the situation is for refugees in the camps. The plan of the Government of Bangladesh to relocate 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, a flood-prone island recently reclaimed from the sea and not easily accessible, does not appear to be a credible solution. What is needed is more land in safe locations, and permanent structures that can withstand wind and rain. It is also imperative that the authorities in Bangladesh officially acknowledges the status of the Rohingya they are hosting as refugees, and ensure they have the rights they need to live with dignity, including the rights to education, to access livelihood, and to an adequate standard of living.
Repatriation 11. In January 2018, at the signing of the Physical Arrangement deal that is to facilitate the return of the Rohingya in line with the 23 November 2017 Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State (“Repatriation Agreement”), Bangladesh and Myanmar stated that repatriation would preferably be complete within six months. Seven months later, repatriation has yet to begin.
The Government of Myanmar has reported on the building of physical infrastructure to house returnees, including two reception centres as well as a transit centre at Hla Poe Kaung, with 600 long-house style buildings that can accommodate 30,000: a complex built in a village tract that was home to an estimated 2,500 Rohingya before 25 August 2017. While the authorities have arranged visits for media and diplomats to these facilities, scant information has been provided on the expected timeframe for processing returns, particularly the length of time the Rohingya will be required to stay in the reception and transit centres.
The two reception centres that have been established in Taung Pyo Let Wae and Nga Khu Yar are reportedly able to process 300 returnees a day, five days a week. At this rate, it would take over 10 years to process the 815,000 people who have arrived in Cox’s Bazar since October 2016, if the reception centres were to work at full capacity, every working day, 52 weeks a year. In the six months since signing the Physical Arrangement, the Government of Bangladesh has given the names of 8,032 Rohingya to the Government of Myanmar for verification and return. To date, Myanmar has verified only 1,387 names. The refugees included on these lists were neither consulted on the process, nor did they apply for voluntary return to Myanmar.
Notwithstanding the agreements it has signed and the committees it has established, the actions of the Government of Myanmar cast doubt on its willingness to repatriate the Rohingya. This is evidenced by continued ill-treatment, violence and discriminatory practices against Rohingya who remain in northern Rakhine, as reported by the hundreds still arriving in Bangladesh each month; the ongoing deprivation of the most basic rights of the Rohingya held in camps for internally displaced persons in central Rakhine for the past six years; and the situation of the Rohingya trapped on the border between Myanmar and Bangladesh.
In May 2018, Myanmar authorities resumed loudspeaker announcements demanding that the approximately 4,000 Rohingya who have been staying at the international border between Myanmar and Bangladesh since August 2017, leave the area. Although the area is located outside Myanmar’s border fence and is routinely referred to in media as a “no-man’s land”, the area is generally understood to be part of Myanmar territory. It is adjacent to the area of Myanmar that is home to the group in question. The loudspeaker announcements state that it is illegal for the group to occupy this area and doing so is punishable under Myanmar criminal law.
In April 2018, the return of one Rohingya family of five to Rakhine State was highly publicized, with photographs of the family receiving National Verification Cards from local officials circulated by Government media. While their return received international press attention, it was later reported that they had never left Myanmar, traveling only as far as the “no-man’s land” on the border. In May 2018, the Government of Myanmar stated that it had arrested 62 refugees who had returned to Rakhine over the course of the preceding four months of their own accord and outside the framework agreed with Bangladesh. Fifty-eight received prison sentences in apparent violation of the provision of the Repatriation Agreement that returning refugees will not face legal action. Criminal charges were dropped against the remaining four. It is unclear what specific charge the 58 were convicted under but the Office of the State Counsellor announced they had been pardoned by President U Win Myint.6 They are reported to have been detained initially in Buthidaung prison and were subsequently moved to Nga Khu Yar reception centre.
Around 90 Rohingya that were on board a boat that had reportedly left Bangladesh for Malaysia in June 2018, but landed in Rakhine State after engine problems forced it ashore, were also sent to Nga Khu Yar reception centre. Photographs were posted online showing the passengers sitting on the ground, surrounded by armed security forces and people in plainclothes holding swords. They were later moved to Hla Poe Kaung Transit Camp and reportedly handed over on the same day to the authorities of various village tracts which, in half of the cases, are not their village tracts of origin.
The situation of 127,953 Muslims - mostly Rohingya - who have lived as IDPs in central Rakhine since the violence that erupted there in 2012, provide an ominous indication of what can be expected for any Rohingya returning from Cox’s Bazar to Myanmar under current conditions. While Rakhine Buddhists displaced by that episode of violence have all been permitted to return to their places of origin or have been relocated to resettlement sites, and although some camps housing Muslims have also been closed over the years since 2012, the remaining Muslim IDPs have been confined to camps for six years. The Assistant Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs recently described the conditions of these camps as being “beyond the dignity of any people”, without any freedom of movement, access to sufficient food, adequate health care, education and livelihoods.7 18. In 2017, two camps, housing Kaman Muslims and Rakhine Buddhists respectively, were reported to have been closed in response to recommendations of the Rakhine Commission’s interim report. During her last visit to Myanmar in July 2017, the Special Rapporteur met with IDPs who had been living in these camps but was denied access to IDPs in a third camp which houses Rohingya - Kyein Ni Pyin, in Pauktaw township. The Government of Myanmar states that that camp is closed but according to reports, it remains active, and continues to receive humanitarian assistance. As many as twelve other camps have been mentioned by the Government of Myanmar for possible closure at different times since issuance of the recommendations of the Rakhine Commission, but the timeline for this is unclear.
While the Rakhine Commission recommended the closure of IDP camps, it insisted it should be in line with international standards and that the “aim should be to facilitate returns to places of origin as a matter of priority, or otherwise respect the choices of the displaced”. With the details still being finalized for most locations, the Government of Myanmar has suggested that IDPs will be moved from long-house style buildings to individual houses or multi-storey apartment blocks on or near their current location. They have not been given any immediate guarantees of freedom of movement and access to livelihoods. This would not be consistent with the recommendation of the Rakhine Commission that IDPs should not be confined to substandard areas without equal access to basic services and livelihoods.
Humanitarian actors have expressed concerns that by taking these steps, the Government of Myanmar is simply reclassifying the camps rather than closing them down. Their concerns are that in practice, the confinement of the Rohingya will continue as will their dependence on humanitarian assistance. The IDPs have expressed fears about future access to assistance after the camps have been declared “closed” and most have expressed their preference to return to their places of origin, something that has been mostly ruled out by the Government of Myanmar. Rohingya interviewed by OHCHR in Cox’s Bazar have stated that they are unwilling to return until the IDPs remaining in central Rakhine are granted citizenship and equal rights, and permitted to return to their places of origin.
The IDPs are also worried that the Government is considering the reclassification of camps as a durable solution, and in the process is taking away their rights to eventually reclaim their previous land and property. In this regard, the Rakhine Commission had specifically stated that “the choice to relocate must not be regarded as a renunciation of the right to return in safety and with dignity to the original place of residence, should that choice become feasible later.”