ROHINGYA REFUGEES: Cox’s Bazar – Rohingya protest for ‘justice’ on crackdown anniversary

Cox’s Bazar—Thousands of Rohingya refugees staged angry protests for “justice” Saturday on the first anniversary of a Myanmar military crackdown that sparked a mass exodus to camps in Bangladesh.Many wept as they recalled the brutal killings and rapes inflicted on the Muslim minority last year as 700,000 fled across the border.The biggest refugee camp in the world is rigidly controlled by Bangladesh authorities and the peaceful but charged Rohingya marches and rallies seen there were unprecedented.“We are Rohingya, we want justice,” people chanted in the Kutupalong camp, where a giant banner proclaimed: “Never Again: Rohingya Genocide Remembrance Day. 25 August, 2018.”In a different part of the camp, thousands of women and children marched behind a huge poster declaring: “365 days of crying. Now I am angry.”Rohingya militants staged attacks on Myanmar police posts on Aug. 25 last year, sparking a bloody crackdown in Rakhine state.Nearly 7,000 Rohingya were killed in the first month, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres.Refugees arrived in Bangladesh on foot or in flimsy boats. Many brought horrific stories of sexual violence, torture and villages burned to the ground.Columns of people marching through the camp on Saturday waved banners and chanted “Allahu Akbar” (God is Great).Tears flowed as one Imam gave a sermon, saying “Please Allah, return to us our homeland. Let us see our parents’ graves. We left them back in Myanmar.”Myanmar authorities, who insist their forces only targeted insurgents, have made an agreement with Bangladesh to repatriate refugees but only a handful have gone back. Rohingya leaders say the exiles will not return home unless their safety is guaranteed.No home, no hopeMyanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi this week said it was up to Bangladesh “to decide how quickly” repatriation of the refugees can be accomplished.She said the “terrorist threat” posed by Rohingya militants remains “real and present.”

The Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which has been blamed for attacks in Myanmar, issued an anniversary statement in which it condemned Myanmar’s “terrorist government and genocidal military.”Mohammad Hossain, a 40-year-old protester at Kutupalong, said: “We are here remember to Aug. 25. We want justice. We want them (Myanmar) to recognize us as Rohingya. We are very sad because we are not in our native land.”The Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship decades ago by Myanmar and have been chased from the country in successive convulsions of violence.About 300,000 were already in the camps in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district and the latest arrivals pushed numbers to one million.The Rohingya and aid agencies are most worried about the uncertain future of the refugees, who are stateless and seemingly unwanted in Bangladesh while conditions in their Rakhine homeland remain dangerous.International Red Cross Committee president Peter Maurer, who visited the camps and Rakhine in July, said in an anniversary statement that Rohingya in both places were “living in misery.”“Unfortunately, since my visit we have not seen tangible improvements for those displaced or the few who remain in Rakhine.”The Red Cross chief called for urgent “sustainable solutions” for “safe, dignified and voluntary returns as soon as possible.” He said this must include “political steps” in Myanmar and Bangladesh.While the Rohingya exodus from western Myanmar continues, with refugees still trickling over the border, the United Nations and international rights groups say conditions are not ready for their return.“It may be decades until they can safely return to Myanmar, if ever,” said MSF head of mission in Bangladesh Pavlo Kolovos in a statement.Calls have mounted for Myanmar’s military to be held responsible for the campaign and the United States has sanctioned two army brigades and several commanders who oversaw the expulsion.There have also been calls for an International Criminal Court inquiry but Myanmar has bristled at international criticism.Humanitarian agencies spearheading the relief effort in Bangladesh say just one-third of the roughly $1 billion needed for the refugees until March has been raised.


UK urges Myanmar to grant UN access to northern Rakhine


Upon the anniversary of the publication of the Kofi Annan-led Commission recommendations on August 24, the British government has called on Myanmar to provide “unfettered and effective access” for UN agencies to northern Rakhine in order to have “sustainable progress” in resolving “a humanitarian crisis of unprecedented proportions”.

The UK, which is holding the presidency of the UN Security Council this month, is expected to call a session on Myanmar on August 28.

“Today marks the anniversary of the Kofi Annan Commission recommendations for Rakhine. It is tragic that this was so closely followed by the brutal, disproportionate response of the Burmese military to a series of coordinated attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army [ARSA]. We have been clear in our condemnation of both the initial attacks and the appalling military operations that followed, which we have consistently described as ethnic cleansing. Violence will not solve the long-standing issues in Rakhine,” Mark Field, the UK’s Minister for Asia and the Pacific, said in a statement released today.

The British minister also paid tribute to former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who passed away aged 80 on August 18, in relation to his involvement in Myanmar. “During his life, Kofi Annan was a constant advocate for human rights, international development and the rule of law,” he said. Annan’s vision of long-lasting peace for Myanmar was supported by paying time and energy into ensuring “every community in Rakhine State had a voice in their future”.

“It is through implementing the recommendations outlined in his report we can ensure that Annan’s legacy and commitment to peace in Rakhine are honoured. We continue to believe this sets out the most viable path for resolving a decades-long conflict, ensuring stability and security for all.”

Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State submitted its final report with 88 recommendations to the government on August 24, 2017. Hours later, ARSA launched attacks on security posts in northern Rakhine, prompting a brutal military crackdown that resulted in an estimated 700,000 Muslims fleeing to Bangladesh.

The UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the UN Development Programme signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with the Myanmar government on June 6 concerning the repatriation of Muslim refugees from Bangladesh. The UK’s statement called the tripartite agreement signed “a step in the right direction” but stressed that the agreement “should now be put into action”.

Crucially, “unfettered and effective access” for UN agencies to northern Rakhine State is needed. “Without it, hundreds of thousands of vulnerable people remain without the aid and development assistance they urgently need,” Mr Field said, referring to those Muslim refugees who are now in Bangladesh.

This plea follows a similar call from the UN. A joint statement from the UNHCR and UNDP earlier this month said they had been waiting for the government to approve travel authorisation requests for employees to work in northern Rakhine since June 14. They said “substantial progress is urgently needed” on granting effective access in Rakhine State, ensuring freedom of movement for all communities and addressing the root causes of the crisis. As of August 21, such requests to visit the conflict area have been delayed and authorities have offered access to a limited area, the UN country head Knut Ostby told Reuters.

The British government has led the international response to this crisis, both in terms of humanitarian support and diplomatically. So far, the UK has provided over £129 million (US$166 million) in humanitarian assistance. “We will continue to work towards bringing to justice the perpetrators of human rights violations, including sexual violence, through a transparent, independent and credible process,” Mr Field said.

During her visit to Singapore on August 21, State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that 81 out of 88 recommendations of the Commission “have been implemented so far”. However, Commission member Laetitia van den Assum told Frontier there was a “total lack of transparency” over which of the recommendations had been carried out and to what extent. “I wish I could tell you which of these recommendations have been completely implemented but we just don’t know … and I don’t think a lot of people know what is really happening,” she was quoted saying.

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