KUTUPALONG, Bangladesh: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh on Tuesday implored the United Nations rights chief for protection after recent murders that have again left members of the stateless minority fearful for their safety. Michelle Bachelet spent the day meeting with residents of the sprawling and squalid relief settlements housing nearly a million ethnic Rohingya who fled persecution in neighbouring Myanmar.
Security in the camps came back into focus this month when two refugee community leaders were shot dead, allegedly by an insurgent group active in the camps. “She wanted to know about murders in the camps. We discussed it and also we discussed camp security,” religious leader Maulvi Zafar told AFP by phone after meeting with the envoy.
“We talked about strengthening camp security. We demanded security.” Most inhabitants of the camps fled Myanmar in 2017 after an army offensive against the mostly Muslim minority. The crackdown is now the subject of a case at the UN’s highest court, with Myanmar’s authorities accused of genocide.
Security in the camps has been a constant issue, with scores of murders, kidnappings and police dragnets targeting drug trafficking networks. Last September saw the murder of top Rohingya leader Mohib Ullah, who had shot to prominence for organising a protest of about 100,000 refugees to mark two years since their exodus.
He also met then US president Donald Trump in the White House that year and addressed a UN meeting in Geneva. His murder was quickly followed by the killings of six Rohingya students and teachers at an Islamic religious school. Camp residents blamed both attacks-and the two killings earlier this month-on the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an insurgent group that has been accused of trafficking narcotics and murdering political opponents.
Bangladesh refugee commissioner Shah Rezwan Hayat told AFP that Bachelet had asked about reports of violence in the camps but added that “all sorts of measures have been taken by the government” to improve security.
He said she also asked about education and livelihood opportunities for the Rohingya people, and he replied that the government would gradually scale up schooling for all refugee children in the camps. Bachelet is on a four-day visit to Bangladesh before her term as UN High Commissioner for Human Rights ends later this month. She is due to address the media in the capital Dhaka on Wednesday.
Meanwhile, the UN’s new special envoy for Myanmar began her first trip to the country Tuesday, a day after a junta court sentenced ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi to six more years in jail for corruption. Noeleen Heyzer “will focus on addressing the deteriorating situation and immediate concerns as well as other priority areas of her mandate,” according to a UN statement issued late Monday.
It did not give details on who she would meet among the junta’s top leadership or whether she would seek to meet Suu Kyi. On Monday Suu Kyi received another prison term in a secretive junta court, taking her total jail time to 17 years.
Heyzer landed in the sprawling military-built capital Naypyidaw on Tuesday afternoon, said security officials who requested anonymity. A schedule for her trip has not been released but she is expected to hold meetings in Naypyidaw, according to a diplomatic source who did not give further details.
Diplomatic efforts to resolve the crisis led by the UN and the Association of Southeast Asian Nations regional bloc have made little headway, with the generals refusing to engage with opponents. The generals had “repeatedly disregarded calls by ASEAN leaders for concrete and inclusive dialogue for national reconciliation,” Malaysia’s foreign minister said on Tuesday.
Last month the junta stoked renewed international condemnation when it executed Phyo Zeya Thaw, a former lawmaker from Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, for offences under anti-terrorism laws. In response, the UN Security Council-including junta allies Russia and China-issued a rare condemnation of the junta. Singaporean sociologist Heyzer was appointed by UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres last year, replacing Swiss diplomat Christine Schraner Burgener.
Schraner Burgener had called for the UN to take “very strong measures” against the military and had been the target of regular broadsides in Myanmar’s state-backed media. Since the coup, the Swiss diplomat had been blocked by the generals from visiting the country, where she had hoped to meet with Suu Kyi. In December state media reported the junta had closed her office in the country “since the activities of Ms Christine Schraner Burgener have concluded”. It has not yet said whether it will allow Heyzer to open an office. – AFP