Rohingya refugees still wait for justice, safe return three years on


Three years since fleeing their homeland Myanmar, nearly one million Rohingya refugees are still unable to return home, failed by their own government who have instead waged a war against them that international observers said is a crime against humanity and possible genocide.

Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh have faced tightened restrictions on rights to information, movement, access to education, and health, and have been unlawfully killed by Bangladeshi security forces.

On August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military began a brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims involving mass killing, rape, and arson that forced over 740,000 to flee.

The Rohingya people fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, which was already hosting an estimated 300,000 to 500,000 refugees who had fled persecution dating back to the 1990s and after.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in January 2020 imposed provisional measures on Myanmar to prevent genocide while it adjudicates alleged violations of the Genocide Convention.

In November 2019, the International Criminal Court (ICC) began an investigation into Myanmar’s forced deportation of Rohingya and related crimes against humanity. Myanmar has not complied with these international justice measures, has not permitted the United Nations to investigate grave crimes inside the country, nor conducted credible criminal investigations of its own into military atrocities.

“Myanmar’s government should recognize that the terrible suffering it has caused the Rohingya won’t disappear even amid a global pandemic,” said Brad Adams, Asia director.

“Myanmar needs to accept an international solution that provides for the safe, voluntary return of Rohingya refugees, while an understandably stretched Bangladesh should not make conditions inhospitable for refugees who have nowhere to go.”

The 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar’s Rakhine State face severe repression and violence, with no freedom of movement or other basic rights. Desperate Rohingya who fled Myanmar face severe risks seeking refuge throughout the region.

Some have been stranded at sea for weeks or months, with hundreds feared dead on boats that disappeared after Malaysia and Thailand illegally pushed them back using the Covid-19 pandemic as justification.

Malaysia has detained arriving Rohingya refugees, denied them access to the UN refugee agency, and prosecuted some for illegal entry.

Despite pledges, the Bangladesh government has yet to allow UN officials to assist the over 300 Rohingya refugees rescued at sea and currently detained on the insecure silt island of Bhasan Char.


Myanmar has failed to address the root causes of widespread abuses against the Rohingya and has refused to create the necessary conditions for their safe, dignified, and voluntary return. As one refugee, Abdul Hamid, told Human Rights Watch: “We witnessed thousands of people being killed. Bodies were floating in the river in Tula Toli, but no justice has been served.”

Refugees who have spoken to Human Rights Watch overwhelmingly express a desire to return to their homes in Myanmar once it is safe; when they have citizenship and freedom of movement; and when there is genuine accountability for atrocities.

“We deeply want to go back to our country and check on our land and our animals, but it is impossible since we can’t find justice,” said Sheru Hatu, a refugee. (Source: HRW)