On December 5, 2017, United Nations Council on Human Rights members meeting in Geneva, Switzerland, were told of “acts of appalling barbarity” committed against the Rohingya Muslim population of Rakhine Province, Myanmar. In less than three months, Bangladesh has granted “Safe Harbour” to more than 620,000 Rohingyans who fled Myanmar, bringing with them reports of heartbreaking atrocities.
In total, hastily organised camps in Bangladesh now are temporary home for more than 800,000 of the Muslim Rohingya people. Since the 1970s, upwards of an additional half million Rohingya fled their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine Province and are now living in a number of other countries, including Saudi Arabia and the UAE, India, Pakistan, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia.
Although Myanmar officially recognises 135 separate ethnic groups within its borders, it continues to consider Rohingya Muslims “foreigners,” and has stripped them of citizenship. It is not the only hotspot in the country, but it is the most serious. Recent escalation of inter-ethnic violence in Rakhine Province prompted Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, to urge that a “new mechanism” be established by the UN to allow criminal prosecution of individuals found to be guilty of human rights violations.
The commissioner cited reports of murdered children as well as adults, burning of “homes, schools, markets and mosques,” widespread rapes and even “deliberately burning people to death inside their homes” as evidence of textbook elements of ethnic cleansing, with “elements of genocide.” Myanmar’s military, while acknowledging that 40 percent of Rohingyan villages have been damaged or abandoned, denies that the population has been targeted or that villages have been intentionally destroyed, calling their actions “anti-terror operations” instead. The Myanmar government disputes the claims of refugees, and is reportedly working on a deal that would allow more than 600,000 Rohingya to return. However, Myanmar continues to refuse access to the region to UN investigators.
Bangladesh is to be commended for keeping the border open and for offering sanctuary to the fleeing Rohingya people, but the nation’s resources are spread thin, and essential emergency supplies, even water, are in short supply. New refugees arrive every day, exhausted, ill, hungry and fearful, bringing with them new reports of unspeakable horrors. There is an urgent need for food, shelter and medical supplies in Bangladesh.
There is also an urgent need for the entire world to address this humanitarian crisis. We echo the words of Mr. Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, “Can anyone — can anyone — rule out that elements of genocide may be present?”
If you believe, as we do, that we all bear some responsibility to help, won’t you consider a Christmas contribution to the Rohingya Refugee Crisis Appeal? This Christmas, please join with the UN, UNESCO and our partner agencies in an effort to help mitigate the current critical need.