UK appreciative but wants assessment on Bhasan Char

The United Kingdom appreciates Bangladesh for hosting Rohingyas but it along with other partners calls for “independent and comprehensive” technical and protection assessments to evaluate the safety and sustainability of the Bhasan Char facilities.

“Commendably, Bangladesh continued to host around 860,000 Rohingya refugees in Cox’s Bazar district,” said the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office in a ministerial statement on human rights priority countries on Friday.

In April and May, Bangladesh authorities rescued several boatloads of refugees who had been drifting in the Bay of Bengal.

Some of the refugees were taken to Bhasan Char, an island in the Bay of Bengal developed by the government to relocate refugees from the camps.

Foreign Minister Dr AK Abdul Momen said the government will relocate 100,000 Rohingyas to Bhasan Char but no date is fixed yet. “We’ll take them in small groups without giving big announcement.”

He said the international agencies and NGOs are creating barriers to Rohingyas relocation to Bhasan Char from Cox’s Bazar camps.

Such relocation is likely to begin this month or in December, officials said.

The human rights situation in Myanmar deteriorated, particularly in Rakhine and Chin states, and civilians increasingly bore the brunt of the conflict, said the UK.

The UK called on Myanmar to abide by the International Court of Justice’s provisional measures ruling; however, the Rohingya continued to be deprived of basic rights and dignity, with 128,000 still confined to camps and most unable to move freely, even to access medical treatment.

The UN reported that more children were killed or maimed between January and April than in the first half of 2019.

There were also widespread reports of arbitrary arrests, torture, deaths in custody, burning of villages, conflict-related sexual violence, and ‘clearance operations’ in conflict areas, perpetrated by both the Myanmar military and ethnic armed groups, said the UK statement.

Former UN Special Rapporteur, Yanghee Lee, indicated that crimes against humanity may have taken place.

In July, the UK targeted two high-ranking Myanmar military generals under the global human rights sanctions regime for their involvement in the systematic and brutal violence against the Rohingya people and other ethnic minorities.

Restrictions on civilians were increased in Myanmar in response to the Covid-19 outbreak.

While some restrictions were justified, others disproportionately affected the Rohingya.

In April, 24,896 prisoners, including 26 political prisoners and 800 Rohingya, were pardoned by the Myanmar President.

Despite this, the government and military continued to use repressive laws to restrict freedom of expression, including on the Peacock Generation poetry group. 21 June marked the anniversary of the world’s longest-running internet shutdown in Rakhine and Chin states.

The shutdown restricted access to, and sharing of, information on Covid-19, human rights, and conflict for over one million people.

In July 2020, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) published the 2019 Human Rights and Democracy Report.

The report provided an assessment of the global human rights situation, and set out the UK government’s thematic, consular, and programme work to advance human rights throughout the world.

“It focused on 30 countries where we are particularly concerned about human rights issues, and where we consider that the UK can make a real difference.”

The latest statement issued on Friday provides an updated assessment of the 30 priority countries, including Bangladesh from 1 January to 30 June 2020.

In that time, the world has suffered the biggest public health emergency in a generation, with huge implications for global human rights, said the UK.

Covid-19 – and the world’s attempts to control it – has increased gender inequalities and rates of domestic and sexual violence.

School closures, and the substantial additional caring responsibilities they bring, will impact the lives of women and girls for years to come.

Some countries have seen the crisis as a cover for repressive action, for silencing human rights defenders, or for stifling the media.

Minority and faith communities have been subjected to hate speech and scapegoating, while being denied access to help and services.

The UK has made it absolutely clear, through their international engagement, that states “must respect their human rights obligations” in their response to Covid-19 as at any other time.

“Any restrictions must be strictly necessary, lawful, and temporary. Now, as we plan for life with and beyond the pandemic, our global recovery must be in the interest of everyone. These are hugely challenging times, but our commitment to defending human rights is tireless,” the statement reads.

The 30 Human Rights Priority Countries are: Afghanistan, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Burundi, Central African Republic, China, Colombia, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), Democratic Republic of Congo, Egypt, Eritrea, Iran, Iraq, Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories, Libya, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Syria, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Venezuela, Yemen, and Zimbabwe.

Bangladesh Situation

In Bangladesh, the overall human rights situation “continued to be of concern”, said the UK.

In particular, the Dhaka City Corporation elections in February were “marred by widespread allegations of voter intimidation and an attack” on an opposition candidate, said the UK statement.

The UK referred to local human rights groups and said there were at least “158 extra judicial killings” in the first six months of 2020.

The UK said media freedom continued to be eroded, with at least 38 journalists and more than 400 other people, including health professionals and people critical of the government’s handling of Covid-19, detained under the Digital Security Act.

Source: United News of Bangladesh