HRW condemns armed gang violence against Rohingya in Cox's Bazaar
The human rights groups slams Bangladesh for failing to protect Rohingya refugees and take effective steps against drug dealing, human trafficking, and murder in the camps. In Myanmar, the military’s brutal crackdown continues, while ASEAN foreign ministers fail again to do anything in their latest meeting.
Cox's Bazar (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Human Rights Watch (HRW) has accused Bangladeshi authorities of failing to protect Rohingya refugees from armed gangs involved in drug trafficking, extortion, kidnappings, and murders inside refugee camps.
The most serious crimes were committed in August 2022 when two Rohingya leaders were assassinated, less than a year after the murder of Mohib Ullah, a prominent Rohingya human rights activist.
At present, about a Rohingya million refugees live in overcrowded camps in Bangladesh, in Cox's Bazar and the far off island of Bhasan Char. Most fled persecution by Myanmar’s military in 2017.
Human Rights Watch has called for refugees to be provided with appropriate means to report gang violence, since Bangladeshi authorities force Rohingya leaders to act as informants to counter armed gangs, but then leave them exposed to retaliation.
US Under Secretary of State for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Right Uzra Zeya and US Assistant Secretary of State for South and Central Asian Affairs Donald Lu visited a Rohingya camp in Cox’s Bazar this week.
HRW said it had documented 26 cases of violence against Rohingya, including murder, kidnapping, torture, rape and forced marriage, through interviews with 45 Rohingyas between January and April this year along with police and medical reports.
Victims say they face obstacles in getting police, legal and medical assistance while the authorities have failed to provide protection, improve security, and prosecute offenders.
“Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina’s past pledges to protect Rohingya refugees are now threatened by violent groups and an indifferent justice system,” said Meenakshi Ganguly of HRW. “The Bangladesh authorities’ increasingly evident intention to repatriate the Rohingya does not absolve the government of its responsibility to ensure their protection.”
According to a study by the International Crisis Group, deteriorating living conditions in refugee camps have pushed an unknown number of Rohingya to return to Myanmar, while others pay for a dangerous passage by ship to Malaysia or Indonesia.
To ease the pressure on Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh has accelerated the relocation of refugees to Bhasan Char, an uninhabited island, where it has built housing , but it still favours repatriation in Myanmar, where a civil war has been raging for the past two years after a military coup overthrew the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.
An internal Bangladeshi police report said 191 firearms and 987 bullets were seized and 4,755 Rohingya were charged in 1,720 cases between 2020 and May 2023, while another report said that 96 Rohingyas were killed between 2019 and the first five months of this year
Deputy Inspector General Jamil Hasan of Cox’s Bazar police said that his officers lacked the resources to stop the violence involving armed groups like the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) and Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO).
By contrast, ARSA in a statement claims that, “In reality, innocent and defenceless Rohingyas are losing their lives as a result of actions serving the interests of some law enforcement officers and the RSO”.
ARSA blames police for biased reports that describe most crimes in refugee camps as the settling of scores between factions in the displaced community.
Bangladesh’s Ministry of Defence reports that at least 11 armed groups are vying to control drug and human trafficking in the camps, targeting activists, educated residents and religious leaders. Some 16 majhis (community leaders) were killed in the first half of 2023 alone.
Meanwhile, foreign ministers of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN yesterday) ended their annual meeting, chaired by Indonesia, without any concrete result.
While condemning again the violence in Myanmar, they simply told themselves to remain united in tackling the escalating violence in the country.