BANGKOK – The United Nations doesn’t want it to happen. Dozens of rights groups say they are shocked. Even the people who will be affected the most, Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar, are upset that their future, once again, is being decided without their input.
On Thursday, a few of the more than 720,000 Rohingya who fled slaughter, rape and village burnings in their homeland last year are due to be repatriated to Myanmar from Bangladesh.
It is a process that has been repeatedly delayed, and one that few, apart from the Myanmar and Bangladesh governments, seem to think is a good idea.
On Tuesday, the U.N. high commissioner for human rights, Michelle Bachelet, warned that forcing the first batch of about 2,200 Rohingya living in refugee camps in Bangladesh to return to ground zero of mass violence against the minority Muslim group would be a “clear violation” of core international legal principles. The United Nations estimates that at least 10,000 people were killed last year in the outbreak of ethnic cleansing.
“The human rights violations committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar amount to the worst atrocities, including crimes against humanity and possibly even genocide,” Bachelet said. “With an almost complete lack of accountability, indeed with ongoing violations, returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades.”
The United Nations has recommended that top military leaders in Myanmar be put on trial for crimes that include genocide. In September, the International Criminal Court, which rules on war crimes and crimes against humanity, opened an initial inquiry into some of these “crimes of persecution and other inhumane acts.”
As Bangladesh and Myanmar have pursued various iterations of repatriation agreements, U.N. officials have repeatedly said they were not involved adequately in the process. Rohingya Muslims, too, have complained about being isolated from decisions about their fates.
It is not clear whether the Thursday deadline will be met, given previous missed targets for repatriation.
In Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, now home to the world’s largest refugee camp, one of the people who found her name on a repatriation list said she had no idea how she was picked to return. The woman, whose name is not being used for her protection, said she had no wish to return to Myanmar.
The U.N. said that at least two elderly men in the refugee camps had attempted suicide rather than face the possibility of returning to the site of crimes against the Rohingya.