Rohingya Muslims and other minorities in Myanmar have endured decades of persecution and systematic discrimination. Today, eleven years after the 2012 violence in Rakhine State, and six years after the 2017 military operations that killed thousands and displaced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya, more than one million languish in refugee camps in Bangladesh. An estimated 600,000 remain in Myanmar where they continue to be deprived of their basic rights.
Meanwhile other ethnic and religious minorities, who had pinned their hopes on ceasefire agreements and the promise of a federal and democratic future for Myanmar, are now once again the victims of a new cycle of conflict. The military coup of February 2021 and violent repression in many parts of Myanmar have inflicted more suffering on minority communities, including Rohingya Muslims.
In addition, last month Cyclone Mocha – the most powerful storm to hit the region in a decade – raged through the country. More than 100 Rohingya died while thousands had their homes shattered and their lives upended, rendering them even more vulnerable.
The Myanmar military has the unequivocal obligation to provide full, safe and unimpeded humanitarian access to all persons in need. Instead, the military has put in place a system of physical and administrative restrictions on the conduct of humanitarian operations, including in assessing casualties and needs on the ground. People are reportedly living in forests and improvised shelters without any access to life-saving services, such as medicines and at times, food.
Alarmed by the gravity of the worsening situation at the end of last year the Security Council adopted its first resolution on Myanmar in which it underscored the need to create conditions necessary for the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons.
Sadly, those conditions do not yet exist on the ground.
To achieve an inclusive future, the authorities in Myanmar must ensure a fully democratic, representative and accountable political system, repeal all discriminatory legislation, undertake inclusive and constructive dialogue aimed at national reconciliation, and implement measures that ensure the respect and protection of the human rights and dignity of each and every person without discrimination.
A fundamental step is the full legal recognition of the right to citizenship of all Rohingya people and issuance to them of appropriate civil documentation, allowing for the full and equal access to basic services, including education and health, economic opportunity, and freedom of movement.
Needless to say, any dialogue and deliberation about the future of the Rohingya – including any possibility for their return to Myanmar - must include their full, effective and meaningful participation, in all their diversity.
Sustainable returns in line with international standards are impossible unless the human rights, freedoms and security of the Rohingya community are guaranteed.
In the meantime, a large number of Rohingya continue to flee to safer countries, often taking immense risks, including dangerous sea crossings. According to UNHCR, more than 3,500 Rohingya attempted deadly sea crossings last year, 2022 – a 360 per cent increase compared to 2021. At least, 348 Rohingya died while making these sea crossings in 2022.
I take this opportunity to express our solidarity with and support to Bangladesh for stepping up to provide refuge to more than 1 million Rohingya refugees through this protracted crisis. I also commend countries in the region, such as Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand for allowing safe disembarkation and provision of protection and humanitarian assistance to Rohingya who arrived by boat and I hope that would continue.
I also acknowledge the significant pressure placed on these countries, notably Bangladesh, in their humanitarian efforts as well on humanitarian actors, in ensuring delivery of services to the camps in Bangladesh. Since March of this year, due to shortfalls in funding, the World Food Programme has had to sharply reduce food rations in the camps – twice – which has further compounded the refugees’ hardship.
The 2023 Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis in Bangladesh is severely underfunded. I call upon the international community to provide robust and sustained support to Rohingya refugees. We must continue to build their resilience and self-reliance, which is fundamental. Ensuring access to education, lifelong learning, skills development and livelihoods in the camps is critical if the refugees are to move away from total dependency on humanitarian assistance, in order to be prepared to rebuild their lives in Myanmar, once they can return in dignity.
In the face of the impunity enjoyed by the Myanmar military for past and present violations against the Rohingya, we fully support the ongoing accountability efforts at the international level. The application brought by the Gambia against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice is an important step in this direction, as is the continuing investigation of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court. I hope the Human Rights Council will redouble its support in the direction of accountability initiatives.
To conclude, I urge the Council to give careful attention to the views expressed by the panel and to work collectively on a roadmap towards durable solutions – solutions that are anchored in the hopes and the human rights of Rohingya Muslims and other minorities.
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