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Migration & Refugees

Little Hope of Justice for Rohingya, Two Years after Exodus

UNITED NATIONS, Aug 23 2019 (IPS) - Two years after the start of an exodus of Rohingya civilians from genocide-like attacks in Myanmar, members of the mainly Muslim minority have little hope of securing justice, rights or returning to their homes, according to the United Nations and aid groups.

Reports this week from the U.N. and Oxfam, a charity, show that, on the second anniversary of the ethnic violence in Rakhine state, hundreds of thousands of Rohingya remain refugees in neighbouring Bangladesh or are effectively interred in domestic, government-run camps.

“Rohingya people feel as though they are in limbo with no end in sight. They are alive, but merely surviving,” said Elizabeth Hallinan, an Oxfam advocate on Rohingya issues, in a statement marking the beginning of the exodus on Aug. 25, 2017.

More than 730,000 Rohingya civilians fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh amid a military-led crackdown in August 2017 that the U.N. and Western governments say included mass killings and gang-rapes.

Oxfam says some 500,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar, including almost 130,000 confined in government-run camps and where red tape often leaves them unable to send children to school or to visit a doctor.

This week, Bangladesh and the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) announced plans to assess whether some 3,450 Rohingya refugees will accept Myanmar’s offer to return home, nearly a year after another major repatriation scheme failed.

Many refugees refuse to go back, fearing more violence, Radhika Coomaraswamy, an expert from the U.N. Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told reporters Thursday, as persecution continues to threaten them in the South Asian nation.   

Coomaraswamy described satellite images of what had been Rohingya villages in Rakhine state, where the government’s slash-and-burn approach had seen settlements “bulldozed” until there was “not a tree standing”.

Sending Rohingya refugees back to Myanmar would expose them to “near-apartheid laws”, and a government that must give approval for marriages between Buddhist women and men of other faiths, including Muslims.

“What are we sending them into, unless there’s some kind of promises being made for a pathway to citizenship that will give them rights?” Coomaraswamy asked in a press briefing in New York 

“It’s not only the issue of safety, physically, but also the fact that they should not have to live like people are living in” the displacement camps in Sittwe and elsewhere in Rakhine state, she added.

In Coomaraswamy’s report, the panel of independent investigators, set up by the U.N. Human Rights Council in 2017, said the sexual violence committed by Myanmar troops against Rohingya women and girls in 2017 showed a genocidal intent to destroy the group.

“Hundreds of Rohingya women and girls were raped, with 80 percent of the rapes corroborated by the mission being gang rapes. The Tatmadaw (military) was responsible for 82 percent of these gang rapes,” the 61-page document said.

Myanmar’s government has denied entry to the U.N. investigators, who instead visited refugee camps in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand, and spoke with humanitarians, academics and researchers.

Myanmar’s mission to the U.N. did not answer requests for comment from IPS. Myanmar denies widespread wrongdoing and says the military campaign across hundreds of villages in northern Rakhine was in response to attacks by Rohingya militants.

Coomaraswamy called on world leaders and CEO’s to cut business ties with the Tatmadaw’s businesses, and said there was a small window of hope for prosecutions under a U.N. investigation mechanism in Geneva.  

The panel has gathered new evidence about alleged perpetrators and added their names to a confidential list to be given to U.N. human rights boss Michelle Bachelet and another U.N. inquiry that is readying cases for possible future trials.

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