DHAKA, Bangladesh (AP) — Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees on Thursday marked the fifth anniversary of their exodus from Myanmar to Bangladesh, while the United States, European Union and other Western nations pledged to continue supporting the refugees’ pursuit of justice in international courts.
Bangladesh is hosting more than 1 million Rohingya refugees who fled from Myanmar over decades, including some 740,000 who crossed the border in August 2017 after the Myanmar military launched a “clearance operation” against them following attacks by a rebel group. The safety situation in Myanmar has worsened since a military takeover last year, and attempts to send them back failed.
In March, the United States said the oppression of Rohingya in Myanmar amounts to genocide after authorities confirmed accounts of mass atrocities against civilians by Myanmar’s military in a widespread and systematic campaign against the ethnic minority. Muslim Rohingya face widespread discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where most are denied citizenship and many other rights.
Bangladeshi officials have expressed frustration over the repatriation of the refugees to Myanmar after at least two attempts to send them back failed since 2017, but Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina said that their repatriation to their own land is the only solution to the crisis.
On the eve of the anniversary, Bangladesh Home Minister Asaduzzaman Khan said in a statement that his country wants the refugees to return to Myanmar safely.
“Bangladesh wants to ensure that the Rohingya can return home to safe conditions in Myanmar where they will no longer be persecuted and will finally receive citizenship,” he said.
“We urge the international community to work alongside us to provide support to the Rohingya people, by asserting pressure on Myanmar to stop the mass persecution and allow Rohingya safe repatriation to their homes,” Khan said.
The issue of the Rohingya crisis has gone to international courts where Myanmar denied charges of any wrongdoing. But global powers are not satisfied with Myanmar’s position.
In a statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken said Wednesday that the U.S. remained “committed to advancing justice and accountability” for Rohingya and all people of Myanmar.
“We continue to support the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, the case under the Genocide Convention that The Gambia has brought against Burma before the International Court of Justice, and credible courts around the world that have jurisdiction in cases involving Burmese military’s atrocity crimes,” Blinken said.
Separately, a joint statement by the High Representative on behalf of the European Union, and the foreign ministers of Australia, Canada, New Zealand, Norway, the United Kingdom and the United States said they remained concerned by the U.N. fact-finding mission’s establishment of consistent patterns of serious human rights violations and abuses, of which many amount to grave crimes under international law.
“We also recognize other initiatives to hold perpetrators accountable, including The Gambia’s efforts before the International Court of Justice, which is currently examining whether the atrocities committed by the Myanmar military against Rohingya amounted also to genocide,” the statement reads.
“We reiterate that Myanmar must comply with the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures order,” it said.
Human rights groups including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch also urged action.
In a statement, Human Rights Watch said the anniversary should prompt concerned governments to do more to hold the Myanmar military to account and secure justice and safety for the Rohingya in Bangladesh, Myanmar and across the region.
“Governments should mark the five-year anniversary of the devastating campaign against the Rohingya with a coordinated international strategy for accountability and justice that draws on Rohingya input,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch.
Bangladesh and Myanmar signed a bilateral agreement in November 2017, brokered by China, for repatriation of the refugees. Bangladesh earlier this month sought China’s assistance to help repatriate Rohingya to Myanmar during a visit by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.