The United Nations' human rights investigator on Myanmar urged Bangladesh on Tuesday to drop plans to start repatriating hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees to Rakhine state this month, warning they would face a "high risk of persecution."
More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees crossed into Bangladesh from western Myanmar, U.N. agencies say, after Rohingya insurgent attacks on Myanmar security forces in August 2017 triggered a sweeping military crackdown. The two countries agreed on Oct. 30 to begin the returns to Myanmar in mid-November. The U.N. refugee agency has already said that conditions in Rakhine state were "not yet conducive for returns."
Yanghee Lee, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, said in a statement that she had received credible information from the refugees in Cox's Bazar that "they are in deep fear of their names being on the list to be repatriated, causing distress and anguish." She had not seen any evidence of the government of Myanmar creating an environment where the Rohingya can return to their place of origin and live in safety with their rights guaranteed. It has "failed to provide guarantees they would not suffer the same persecution and horrific violence all over again," Lee said.
Human rights groups had earlier voiced concern that returning the men ignored the danger they faced in Myanmar where for decades the Rohingya have been targeted in violent pogroms by security forces. Around 100,000 displaced Rohingya Muslims living in Myanmar's Rakhine state struggle to save their lives from systematic violence, persecution, according to reports.
The U.N.-backed investigators presented a report in September that painted a grim picture of crimes against Rohingya. The report found that certain members of the Myanmar army have participated in genocide against Rohingya Muslims, many of who fled to neighboring Bangladesh. The 444-page United Nations fact-finding report has called the crimes committed by the Myanmar army "the gravest crimes under international law." Referring to previous U.N. reports, the report listed similar actions taken by the Myanmar army and government in the past against the Rohingya.
The Rohingya, described by the U.N. as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012. In a report, U.N. investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity. The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. Myanmar has denied citizenship to Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups it officially recognizes, which effectively renders them stateless. The Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. However, most people in majority-Buddhist Myanmar consider them to be unwanted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.