UN calls for probe into ‘heartbreaking’ killing of veteran Rohingya activist

Mohibullah, chair of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH) was shot dead on Wednesday by unknown assailants in the Kutupalong /Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, located in the south of the country.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights on Friday called for a prompt, thorough, and effective investigation into the killing of a veteran Rohingya refugee activist at a refugee camp in Bangladesh. 

Mohibullah, chair of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH) was shot dead on Wednesday by unknown assailants in the Kutupalong /Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, located in the south of the country.

The camp was established in August 2017 and houses more than 750,000 Rohingya, a mainly Muslim minority group from neighbouring Myanmar, who fled mass killings, rapes and persecution by the army and security forces.

“It is heartbreaking that a person who spent his life fighting to ensure that the violations committed against the Rohingya people were known world-wide has been murdered in this way,” the UN rights chief said.

Bachelet described Mohibullah as “an exceptional human rights defender, who despite the risks that his work entailed, nevertheless continued defending the rights of his people.”

For years, he methodically collected information about violations against the Rohingya in their home state of Rakhine, in northwestern Myanmar, and sought to galvanise international action.

Mohibullah travelled to Geneva in March 2019 to address the 40th session of the UN Human Rights Council in person, explaining how the Rohingya had suffered discrimination for decades, such as being deprived of their basic rights, including nationality, land, health and education.

“Imagine if you have no identity, no ethnicity, no country. Nobody wants you. How would you feel? This is how we feel today as Rohingya,” he told the Council at the time. “We are citizens of Myanmar, we are Rohingya.”

Bachelet said Mohibullah’s words “were very powerful and highlighted the terrible situation of the Rohingya and today, four years later, they echo as a reminder that Rohingya are still waiting for justice and still waiting to return home.”

His death highlights the precarious situation of the Rohingya in both countries, she added, emphasizing “we need to do much more to help this persecuted community, both in Bangladesh and in Myanmar.”

Insecurity in the camp

Insecurity has been increasing alarmingly in the Kutupalong /Cox’s Bazar camp, according to the UN human rights office, OHCHR, with growing criminality, rising tensions between different groups, as well as heavy handed security crackdowns during anti-drug operations. Anti-Rohingya sentiment has also been increasing within Bangladeshi communities.  

“Whoever was responsible for his murder, Mohibullah’s death is a clear example of the insecurity in the camp, and the apparent attempts to silence moderate civil society voices,” said Bachelet.

“A prompt, thorough, and independent investigation should be conducted not only to identify and apprehend his killers, and expose their motives, but also to define what measures are needed to better protect vulnerable civil society leaders, while avoiding further securitisation in the camps.”  

While stating that she fully comprehends the huge challenges Bangladesh has faced in hosting Rohingya refugees, and the need for greater international support, Bachelet stressed that their basic rights must be upheld.  

Meanwhile, the situation of roughly 600,000 Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine State remains dire, with many still confined in camps, and reports of alleged violations including unlawful killings, arbitrary arrest and detention, and high levels of extortion.  

“Mohibullah’s killing should be a clarion call to the international community to redouble its pressure on Myanmar to recognize the Rohingya and accept their return, and to pursue accountability for the terrible crimes committed against them,” said Bachelet.