Rohingya refugees must participate in decisions affecting their lives: Amnesty International

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh must be given the right to participate in decisions affecting their lives and speak for themselves, Amnesty International said today in a briefing.

The briefing,’Let us speak for our rights’, outlines how exclusion from decision-making is impacting the human rights of Rohingya refugees — from freedom of expression, assembly and movement to access to healthcare and education. 

“For decades, the Rohingya were subjected to persecution and discrimination in Myanmar, with hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes because of crimes against humanity committed against them. Now, three years since their displacement, they are still suffering and prevented from speaking up for their rights,” said David Griffiths, Director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International.

Amnesty International is calling on the international community to support and work with the Bangladeshi authorities to develop the policy as part of their international cooperation to protect the Rohingya refugees.

In May, the Bangladeshi authorities took more than 300 Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char, a remote island made up entirely of silt that has yet to be assessed by the UN for its habitability.

Amnesty International spoke to two Rohingya women and one man in Bhashan Char together with another eight family members of 13 Rohingya refugees who are currently on the island.

In two interviews, the refugees said they heard accounts of sexual harassment or abuse at the hands of police and navy officials on the island. Amnesty International is calling on the Bangladeshi authorities to conduct a full and thorough investigation into these allegations.

The prolonged confinement of the Rohingya refugees on the island is a violation of Articles 9 and 12 of Bangladesh’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

More than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions between August 2017 and July 2020, according to Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar.

Bangladeshi authorities must note the allegations of the Rohingya families and civil society and launch independentinvestigations into all these executions and ensure that those suspected of responsibility are prosecuted in fair trials.

As of 23 August 2020, six Rohingya refugees have died from Covid-19, and 88 members of the community had tested positive with the virus. However, these numbers were based on tests conducted on 3,931 refugees, which is less than 1 percent of the Rohingya population in the camps. 

This may well represent a significant under-reporting, as very few Rohingya refugees volunteer to be tested at the healthcare facilities due to fears of being separated from family, and their experiences of disrespectful behaviour from medical staff.

Amnesty International interviewed 10 Rohingya women about gender-based violence and discrimination in the camps. Five of them said the frequency of violence against women had increased, particularly domestic violence during Covid-19, as more men are at home.

In January 2020, Bangladesh announced that Rohingya children would get the opportunity to study the Myanmar curriculum initially between grades six and nine as they transition from an existing informal education programme.

However, the pandemic and subsequent restrictions on services in the camps have not only shut down existing learning facilities but delayed implementation of the Myanmar curriculum.

“Bangladesh’s government must ensure that COVID-19 does not become another excuse to deprive Rohingya children of their right to access education. The international community must support the Bangladeshi authorities with funds and resources to implement the Myanmar curriculum,” said David Griffiths.

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