Published: Thu, November 15, 2018
Global News | By Blake Casey

UN urges BD to halt Rohingya return

UN urges BD to halt Rohingya return

Myanmar's State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and US Vice President Mike Pence hold a bilateral meeting in Singapore on Wednesday.

"The violence and persecution by military and vigilantes that resulted in driving 700,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh is without excuse", Pence told Suu Kyi on the sidelines of ASEAN, a major regional summit, in Singapore.

The talks will also likely focus on current and future efforts to allow Rohingya refugees to return to Myanmar voluntarily, whilst also ensuring their long-term security. Pence repeatedly called on her to pardon two Reuters journalists imprisoned in Myanmar and pressed her to protect the Rohingya, Muslim victims of a brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign by the Myanmar military.

The draft of the chairman's statement, which was reviewed by Reuters but may change before it is delivered by host Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong at the close of meetings of the 10-member Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN), said the situation in Rakhine State was a "matter of concern". Mr Pence is attending that and the summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Co-operation forum in Papua New Guinea later this week in President Donald Trump's stead.

The comments did not come as a surprise to Suu Kyi, with Ardern saying her counterpart was aware of the feelings of the global community: "It's been shared loud and clear".

Muslim-majority nations Malaysia and Indonesia are believed to be behind the strong ASEAN statement.

"Someone who has been detained before should know the sufferings and should not inflict it on the hapless", Mahathir told reporters in a reference to Suu Kyi's long years of house arrest under Myanmar's military junta.

Though she has been the de facto head of Myanmar's civilian government since her party swept elections in 2015, she is limited in her control of the country by a constitution written under the former military junta.

Suu Kyi has come under fierce criticism for her handling of the crisis in Rakhine state and for failing to safeguard human rights in the country. Amnesty International became the latest organization to strip her of an award this week, citing the "shameful betrayal of the values she once stood for".

"In a way, we can say we understand our country better than any other country does", she said.

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While many Rohingya want to return home, they said, they fear doing so without protections like citizenship and those responsible for the slaughter being held accountable.

On whether he spoke to Suu Kyi directly, the premier said: "I spoke directly but not on that issue".

The United Nations, however, has urged Bangladesh to scrap the plan of starting the repatriation now, saying conditions in Myanmar are not yet safe for the Rohingyas, in part because the Buddhists in the country have been protesting against the repatriation.

Bangladesh has said that it would not force anyone to return and has asked UNHCR to verify whether those on the list are willing to go back to Myanmar.

"But the ultimate success of the initiative still depended on the "voluntariness" of the refugees' decision to return", the official said.

A first wave of organized returns could begin as soon as 15 November, following the announcement of a bilateral agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar last month which falls short of worldwide obligations.

"With an nearly complete lack of accountability - indeed with ongoing violations - returning Rohingya refugees to Myanmar at this point effectively means throwing them back into the cycle of human rights violations that this community has been suffering for decades", she said in a statement.

United Nations officials and worldwide organizations have said such a return is unsafe due to ongoing violence and conditions that continue to force refugees to flee the country.

He said that both Bangladesh and Myanmar were on schedule to kick off the repatriation process, which would see the return of 2,200 Rohingyas verified by Myanmar in the first batch.

Human rights group Amnesty International this week stripped her of its highest honour over what it said was her "indifference" to the plight of the Rohingya.

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