Workshop on International Human Rights and Refugee Law Standard and Mechanism

A daylong event titled “Workshop on International Human Rights and Refugee Law Standard and Mechanism” held in 19 December, 2017 at Hotel Long Beach, Cox’s Bazar. Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta, Executive Director, Research Initiatives Bangladesh (RIB) and Honorary Member, National Human Rights Commission, Bangladesh (NHRC,B) was the Guest Lecturer in the program. Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, Abu Ahmed Faijul Kabir, Coordinator, Subarna Dhar, Senior Program Organizer of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) were present in the program. Advocate Arup Barua Topu, Convener, Human Rights Defender Forum (HRDF), Cox’s Bazar and Md. Mobassher Alam , Protection Assistant, UNHCR was also present in the program. Md. Alam shared his experience of working with Rohingya refugees.

Abu Ahmed Faijul Kabir, Coordinator, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) started the program with general introduction of the participants and respected Guest Lecturer Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta. Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) briefed the program. In her opening remarks she mentioned that every year Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) organizes a participatory meeting to discuss International Human Rights Instruments. This year as Rohingya refugee issue is a significant one, ASK made a choice to come the Cox’s Bazar, the place which is directly affected by this greatest humanitarian crisis. ASK decided to discuss with the locals, who has witnessed this crisis with the objectives of finding the best possible way out to mitigate the consequences driven by this new situation. She then invited Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta to start her session reconfirming her practical experiences and expertise in Refugee issue.

Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta, started her session on “Strategies of Refugee Management; Role of government, CSOs, Media and International Community in Promoting and Protecting Rights of Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh” with thanking Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) for choosing Cox’s Bazar as the place of the workshop. She discussed the background of the Human Rights and Refugee Law standard in International arena. According to her, Human rights defenders must take the approach of looking into this matter to protect this vulnerable group of people. She added that, protection measures are wider than law. She reminded that human rights defenders can undertake the monitoring role. She introduced the (Pre-disaster, during disaster, post-disaster and re-settlement/ re-habilitation) approach Nepal had taken during the earth quake to the HRD’s in her second session under title “Issues of concern in assuring Safe and Secure Return of Rohingya Refugees to Myanmar”. She suggested that even here HRD’s can take this approach to monitor Rohingya issue. She further added that though Bangladesh is not a signatory to the convention on refugees but it has some bindings under customary international laws. She mentioned about ‘Principle of Non-Refoulement’ which means a country cannot force people who has taken refuge there to return to that country where they have fear of life and persecution. She also focused on awareness building and making the neighborhood HR sensitive. She also emphasized on education as emergency provision. According to her, education helps to create coping mechanism. Coordination of relief and aid management is another important thing. She suggested to take care of gender based security and human trafficking. HRD’s must analyze whether the safe passage for the return of Rohingyas is present or not. She further added that there is no timeline for their safe return. In her lecture she also expressed that the exposure of photos and videos identifying the rape victims is a gross violation of human rights. She gave importance on Confidence Building Mechanism (CBM) among the Rohingya People.

Md. Mobassher Alam, Protection Assistant, UNHCR participated the program as a representative of UNHCR. During his discussion he mentioned that UNHCR wants the safe and secure return of Rohingyas with dignity through HR and advocacy. He added that HRD’s must response after evaluating the dimensions of any particular matter. He further added that both the perpetrators and the victims are the beneficiary of them and they have accountabilities towards them.  He noted that “Mazi” (selected leaders for group of Rohingyas) is itself a corrupted system. At times it becomes difficult to control the “Mazi”s. He also emphasized in linking between field and advocacy level. He added that community involvement is very important to find comprehensive solution. He also wanted to hear from the participants if they find UNHCR can do anything in Rohingya issue.

Abu Ahmed Faijul Kabir, Coordinator, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) shared ASK’s role since the influx of August, 2017 to the participants. He shared that ASK had organized a press conference after their first visit and provided nine recommendations to the Government of Bangladesh (GoB) and international community. He further added that most of those recommendations were adopted by the authority e.g. child registration, providing baby food. He also added that ASK has sent its fact finding teams on time to time basis to follow up the situation. They always raised concern about women and children who were more vulnerable and subject to torture and mass-killing.  They had fled to Bangladesh with severe injury in their body. Women’s were subject to gang-rape, children’s were brutally tortured and killed. He opined that activities of Myanmar militants to Rohingya people of Rakhaine state amounts to genocide. He then opened the floor for discussion.

Abul Kashem, Executive Director, HELP Cox’s Bazar, thanked ASK for organizing this workshop. He informed that there are many Rohingya’s in Cox’s Bazar jail. He wanted to know how they may be treated. He also emphasized on establishing a committee to prevent trafficking of Rohingya people. He added that HRD’s must work intending maintain of the harmony. He expects ASK to play more vibrant role to face this crisis. He pointed out that it is not possible to control this explosion of 12 Lac people without proper mechanism. In his ending remarks he thanked Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) for her repeated visits in Rohingya Camps.

Mizanur Rahman Bahadur, member, Secretary, HRDF Cox’s Bazar, expressed that though they are HR activists but on the other hand they are locals who are facing price hike on their daily necessities, living in insecurities and facing various problems due to Rohingya camps. Other locals will not welcome their Rohingya friendly role. He requested to provide easily understandable documents to understand refugee law. He said that they want safe returns of Rohingyas in their own land with dignity. He added that social awareness raising is important to let people know that Rohingyas are human too and they have rights.

Taheruddin Manik, Advocate, has raised some practical questions before the audience.

  • In case of voluntary repartition who are not interested to return in Myanmar what will be their status?
  • How will Bangladesh deal with the family violence of Rohingya community?
  • What will be the status of child born from the marriage between Bangladeshi citizen and Rohingya?
  • Rohingyas were deprived of basic medical facilities and vaccination; they carry viruses which are not known to us e.g. diphtheria. How can the locals face this problem?
  • The number of Rohingya people who has taken refuge in Ukhiya is more than the total number of locals; locals are losing their majority, what role should locals play now?

Dr. Meghna Guhathakurta, replied to the queries of the participants, in case of voluntary repartition there are three options, i) return, ii) re-settlement and iii) citizenship. If Rohingyas refuse to return to their country then Bangladesh has two options i.e. re-settlement and providing citizenship. In case of re-settlement the option is to send them in a third party country. This option is not allowed since 2010. Before that only 5% could get the chance of settling in a third country. If Bangladesh start advocating for re-settlement their might be rumors that Bangladesh will send them to US, that will encourage more Rohingya influxes. So, this should not be an example. On the other hand, we have example regarding Biharis. Who are born in Bangladesh should get Bangladeshi citizenship. There are High Court Division’s rules regarding their citizenship. So, there is only option left for citizenship. She added that only Myanmar can bring the durable solution as this influx will continue fleeing from Myanmar until it stops this atrocity lead by its Army. But Bangladesh can put pressure on Myanmar through strong international advocacy. Besides, we must keep in mind that whether the media of Myanmar can play independent role or not. Bangladeshi courts cannot deal with the family matters of Rohingya citizens. But to settle these family disputes the Government can take a decision to provide arbitration power to “Mazi”s. Moreover, the Government can recommend dealing these cases to Union Council. “Mazi”s can be trained to deal with these matters.

Intermarriages are nothing new to Bangladesh. There are many examples of marriage between Bangladshi citizen and Rohingya. Social awareness raising is very important in this matter. As this kind of marriage take place by mutual understandings between the parties and do not get register. This kind of marriage is fraudulent. And the status of child born from this kind of marriage is yet to be decided. She also added that diphtheria is a kind of flu. There is available vaccine to prevent this. Md. Mobassher Alam, Protection Assistant, UNHCR informed that UNHCR is providing identification number to the families. Besides they are providing training to “Mazi”s to maintain proper documentation. They have also identified a diphtheria zone. He also put emphasize on protection monitoring.

Monthela Rakhaine, member, HRDF, said that as Rohingyas were attacked by Buddhists in Myanmar so the local Buddhists are living in fear that they may be retributive upon the local Buddhists.

Progyananda Vikku, a monk (religious leader of Buddhists) said that in his opinion there is no scope to define the crime which is happening in the territory of Myanmar from the perspective of religion but it should be considered as gross violation of human rights. He further added that if aggrieved Rohingya peoples attack local Buddhist despite all measures taken by the Government to segregate them from its citizens it will be the failure of state not their fault. As they are aggrieved it’s very normal that they carry anger within them.

Abu Ahmed Faijul Kabir, Coordinator, Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) then undertook a session on “Extents of protection of Refugees available under National Constitutional and Statutory provisions and International Human Rights standard and mechanism”. After his session he opened the discussion for all.

Progyananda Vikku, a monk (religious leader of Buddhists) asked as most of the Bangladeshis never entered into Myanmar our general knowledge about Myanmar is internet based. But it seems like the mass people of Myanmar has lost their voice during military regime. Do ASK has any information if Mayanmar has any HR organization which can help to promote HR and ASK could liaison with that organization to promote and protect HR in Myanmar?

Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, ASK opined that it seems like they don’t have any strong Human Rights organization or activists.

Subarna Dhar, Senior Program Organizer of Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) in her session titled “ASK’s response to Rohingya Refugee Crisis and the violence amounting to Genocide against Rohingya at Rakhine state of Myanmar” said that ASK has come to Cox’s Bazar from Dhaka to reach the people of Cox’s Bazar. She displayed the ASK website before the audience and showed how ASK and its different partner organizations, Human Rights Defender Forum (HRDF) of different districts and Human Rights Forum Bangladesh (HRFB) have been responding since the Rohingya influx began. She stated that as it is not possible to find out the solution only by the government so ASK has taken its advocacy to international level. Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK) already briefed the situation to diplomats after its press conference held on 18 September, 2017 at Cox’s Bazar.

Mizanur Rahman Bahadur, member, Secretary, HRDF Cox’s Bazar, expressed his view that Bangladesh has overcome the first stage of providing refuge to Rohingya people and have assure relief for them but now it’s time to start the process and awareness regarding their safe return.

In the next session titled “Observation, Challenges and Mitigation Measures”, Subarna Dhar stated that the bilateral treaty between Bangladesh and Myanmar was not disclosed. So, we could not analyze the treaty but ASK has considered the media reports and according to ASK’s evaluation it is a summary of the treaty of 1992.

Md. Mobassher Alam, Protection Assistant, UNHCR intervened and said they had examined the treaty on behalf of UNHCR. It contains 5 pages and he agreed with ASK’s opinion that this document is summary of the 1992 treaty. Only who possess the valid documents will be allowed to return. Moreover, daily 130 persons will get the chance of return. Only 2 families of 50 possess documents. According to Rohingyas their documents were seized before attack. He said it is a systematic cleansing. Bangladesh must bring Myanmar to a position to make them bound to provide Rohingyas minimum rights.

Progyananda Vikku, a monk (religious leader of Buddhists), said that all of them who has taken refuge did not came from camps, even if they return where will be they accommodated?

Mr. Romel, another participant requested all to do strong advocacy with the Media for not publishing any fabricated news which may harm the image of Bangladesh.

Three students from different Educational institutions of Cox’s Bazar participated in the workshop; they expressed their gratitude saying that they had no idea about Refugee laws. This workshop has enriched their knowledge.

Sheepa Hafiza, Executive Director, ASK declared closing to the workshop thanking everyone for making this workshop participatory and thus fruitful.  In her ending remarks she said that there is hardly any example in world that refugees turned to terrorists. But there remains a huge scope of influencing them. So HRD’s must remain conscious about the consequences.