Rakhine Commission visits Bangladesh camp on fact-finding mission

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh:  A six-member delegation from the Rakhine Commission was greeted by protests as they arrived at an unregistered camp in Bangladesh on March 19.

The demonstrating refugees at Kutupalong camp held banners demanding an international criminal inquiry be launched following alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated during a scorched earth campaign in northern Rakhine State.

In a flash survey conducted by the UN, the Muslim refugees from Rakhine State detailed a host of horrific abuses, alleging that security forces committed murder, mass gang-rape, arson and kidnappings.

The national-level Rakhine Commission, which was established by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has a mandate to investigate such grievous allegations for the government. However, the commission released an internationally decried interim report that largely dismissed the allegations or claimed insufficient evidence for judgment. Prominent UN actors, including the special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, have dismissed the commission as not credible, and not impartial. The commission is headed by Vice President U Myint Swe, the former head of intelligence under the military government, and does not include any Muslim Rohingya members.

The six representatives from the commission were sent to Bangladesh to interview refugees who have fled across the border from northern Rakhine State following the launch of the clearance campaign on October 9. More than 74,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya – locally known as Bengalis – have swelled across the border in the wake the crackdown, according to UN estimates.

The commission members were accompanied to Kutupalong camp by camp director Mohammad Shomshuduza, as well as security forces, according to refugee leader Kasim.
Upon arrival at the camp around 2pm, the delegates met with and questioned refugees.

The refugees explained the abuses they allege they suffered at the hands of the Burmese security forces.

According to one refugee at the camp, Sharif, after detailing the abuses, the refugees asked the commissioners to support their call for finding and punishing the perpetrators through an international tribunal. He added that the commissioners appeared to be “upset” by the request.

When they questioned the refugees, the commission members never asked whether they would want to go back to their homes or not, said Jalal Uddin, another refugee. He added that about half the women in the unregistered camp had suffered some form of sexual violence during the security forces’ crackdown.
Last week, the European Union called for an immediate international probe of potential crimes against humanity by security forces in northern Rakhine State. The Human Rights Council is expected to vote on the resolution this week.

After the tour of Kutupalong camp, the Rakhine Commission members departed for Cox’s Bazar. They were expected to visit with refugees in the Balu Khali and Leda camps on March 20 and 21, according to Bangladesh officials.

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