Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh must be given the right to participate in decisions affecting their lives and speak for themselves, Amnesty International said yesterday.
In a news briefing, the global rights watchdog has also called for a full and thorough investigation into allegations that Rohingya refugees have been subjected to extrajudicial executions.
The briefing titled "Let us speak for our rights" outlined how exclusion from decision-making was impacting the human rights of Rohingya refugees from freedom of expression, assembly and movement to access to healthcare and education.
"For decades, the Rohingya were subjected to persecution and discrimination in Myanmar, with hundreds of thousands forced to flee their homes because of crimes against humanity committed against them. Now, three years since their displacement, they are still suffering and prevented from speaking up for their rights," said David Griffiths, director of the Office of the Secretary General at Amnesty International.
While the Bangladeshi authorities have taken many positive steps to support the Rohingya refugees, there is a lack of transparency in decisions, which almost entirely exclude Rohingya involvement, he said. "What is needed is a clear policy that is inclusive of Rohingya voices to ensure their human rights are properly protected."
Amnesty also called on the international community to support and work with the Bangladeshi authorities to develop the policy as part of their international cooperation and assistance to protect the Rohingya refugees.
More than 50 Rohingya refugees, as well as members of the host community, Rohingya diaspora, human rights activists and humanitarian staff were interviewed for the briefing.
In May, the Bangladesh authorities took more than 300 Rohingya refugees to Bhashan Char. The rights watchdog said it spoke to two Rohingya women and one man in Bhashan Char together with another eight family members of 13 Rohingya refugees who are currently on the island.
In two interviews, Rohingya refugees told Amnesty that they heard accounts of sexual harassment. The rights body urged the Bangladeshi authorities to conduct a full and thorough investigation into these allegations.
Rohingya refugees said they share a room with two to five people of roughly 50 square feet, a space just about enough for one person. They said food is distributed twice a day and they are tired of having the same food since they arrived on the island.
David said, "Bangladeshi authorities should safely transport all the Rohingya refugees currently on Bhashan Char back to the refugee camps in Cox's Bazar and ensure that the refugees are consulted, without coercion, about any future plans to relocate them to the island."
More than 100 Rohingya refugees were victims of alleged extrajudicial executions between August 2017 and July 2020, according to Bangladeshi human rights organisation Odhikar. Yet none of these cases have been investigated and no suspected perpetrators have been brought to justice.
Bangladeshi authorities must note the allegations and concerns of the Rohingya families and civil society and launch full, independent, prompt and impartial investigations into all alleged extrajudicial executions and ensure that those suspected of responsibility are prosecuted in fair trials, without recourse to the use of the death penalty, reads the press release.
Amnesty said it interviewed 10 Rohingya women about gender-based violence and discrimination in the camps. Five of them said the frequency of violence against women had increased, particularly domestic violence during Covid-19, as more men are at home.
"Rohingya women and children, who represent more than half of the refugees in Cox's Bazar, are at risk of many forms of harassment and discrimination. The authorities and humanitarian agencies must ensure that all allegations of trafficking, sexual harassment and discrimination are investigated and that women are genuinely consulted about actions and decisions that affect them," said David.
Pointing out hindrance to education, he said the Bangladesh government must ensure that Covid-19 does not become another excuse to deprive Rohingya children of their right to access education.
"The international community must support the Bangladeshi authorities with funds and resources to implement the Myanmar curriculum," added David.