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Grave concern over plans to repatriate 100,000 Rohingya to Burma

15 January 2018

Rape and sexual violence remain weapons of war used by the Burmese military but the UK has been too slow to act, concludes Committee.

Repatriation of displaced Rohingya people

The potential return of 100,000 Rohingya to Burma without a clear understanding of their legal status, interim and/or final destination, or even whether they have volunteered for the return trip, is a matter of grave concern, says the International Development Committee.

In the Report, the Committee says plans to begin repatriation for the displaced Rohingya people from Bangladesh to Burma are well underway without evidence of consultation or involvement with the community. The UNCHR reported in December 2017 that a Joint Working Group had been tasked to 'develop a specific instrument on the physical arrangement for the repatriation of returnees in a speedy manner.'

However, MPs on the Committee agreed that the required conditions for the safe return of the Rohingya to Burma must include their safety, security, and access to fundamental human rights. Previous episodes of displacement and return of the Rohingya, and other ethnic minorities, in Burma over the last 20 years ‘do not inspire confidence', says the Report.

While recognising the challenges and ambitions behind each strand of the Government's ‘five-point plan' for the Rohingya and Burma, the Report welcomes the concept. However, the Committee says that returning the Rohingya to live in Burmese-run internment camps with the threat of future deprivation and violence is unacceptable.

Chair's comments

Stephen Twigg MP, Chair of the Committee, said:

“The Rohingya Crisis has provided the international community with an unwanted test case of the best way to respond to humanitarian crises and the needs of the displaced people involved.

We are going to have to work much harder to protect populations from threats and humanitarian crises. For decades, the Rohingya people in Rakhine State endured discrimination, marginalisation and abuse. The Rohingya have paid a heavy price for the lack of consensus amongst the international community on how and when to decide to act effectively. We cannot fail them again.”

Gender-based violence

Members were also critical of the UK's reluctance to commit its full specialist team on sexual violence to assist with reported cases of gender-based violence. In the face of substantial evidence of horrific, gender-based, atrocity crimes such as rape, sexual violence, torture and mutilations, it is essential that official, contemporary evidence-gathering of crimes must be gathered by forensic professionals as a matter of course.

Predecessor Committees for International Development have reported that the use of rape and gender-based violence against civilian women and girls is military policy in Burma - this has not changed.

Given that an internal inquiry carried out by the Burmese has already cleared its forces of wrongdoing in a way that the UK Government has described as “simply not credible,” the Committee urges the Government to find other solutions.
Furthermore, Burma committed to support the Secretary-General's Every Woman Every Child (EWEC) initiative and corresponding roadmap, working to end all preventable deaths of women and adolescent girls in crisis settings, agreed at the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016.

Stephen Twigg MP, added

“The UK has 70 experts ready to deploy to Bangladesh to assist with this situation and yet we haven't sent them. This flies in the face of the UK's commitment to deter gender-based violence, championed by William Hague in 2012.
It is unacceptable that it is taking the UK so long to send any specialist resources on sexual violence to advise on the experiences of the Rohingya in Rakhine State. Previous Reports from our Committee (2006 and 2014) reported the high incidence of rape in conflicts in Burma. The UK Government should have expected this and prepared accordingly. As an international community, we should consider what message this conveys to other regimes.”

This Report is the first element of the Committee's examination of DFID's work in Bangladesh and Burma.

Further information

Image: Tommy Trenchard Caritas CAFOD September 2017 Rohingya crisis