Excellencies, Distinguished Panelists,
My Dear Rohingya Sisters and Friends,
Warm greetings from New York to friends who have joined from everywhere!
I thank the Permanent Mission of Canada, the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) and the Global Justice Center for organizing today’s event on the sidelines of the CSW, and for inviting me make a few remarks. I am grateful to them for not forgetting the Rohingya women.
I am very happy to join my friends, Ambassador Bob Rae and Ambassador Pascal Baeriswyl –we work very closely with both to promote the Women, Peace and Security, and the Youth Peace and Security agendas. We also share a common vision of ensuring a safe and dignified future for the Rohingya minorities, who have suffered enough.
I am also very pleased to see with us today Rohingya women activists and leaders. I am really looking forward to hear what they have to share about their experience and expectations.
[Excellencies, Dear Friends] The Rohingya Muslims taking shelter in Bangladesh due to persecution in their own land Myanmar, has been a phenomenon since 1978. However, since 2017, following the horrific clearance operations in Rakhine, which caused one of the largest and fastest forced displacement in recent history, the gravity of the situation changed dramatically. Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh currently hosts the largest refugee camp in the world. The humanitarian operations in Cox’s Bazaar are also one of the largest in terms of scale and dimensions. And the situation in Cox’s Bazaar is further complicated due to scarcity of land and the impact on our local population in that part of the country. We would appreciate more appreciation for the challenges that we face in hosting such a large population. I will like to humbly remind that it was resource constrained Bangladesh that opened its borders when others closed theirs in the region to the fleeing thousands.
More than 50 percent of the Rohingyas sheltered in Bangladesh are women and one in six families is headed by a single mother. Due to cultural norms, Rohingya women have not traditionally taken the leading role in the family. Moreover, most of these women experienced unimaginable trauma due to sexual violence and deaths of family members in the 2017 purge.
As the host of this huge number of traumatized women, we are aware of, and sensitive, to the special needs of the Rohingya women. Our Ministry of Women and Children Affairs has undertaken several projects with the help of UN agencies and NGOs to create women friendly space and environment in the camps, and also extended psycho-social support to them. Adolescent girls receive menstrual hygiene products, known as ‘dignity kits’. Our National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security provides for specific tasks under protection pillar to support women living in such humanitarian situations.
We are working with the International Criminal Court’s prosecution team and also in the OIC to ensure justice, which, we believe is critically important for the restoration of the dignity of Rohingya women and youth.
The humanitarian community – UN agencies and NGOs are also doing remarkably well in ensuring women’s participation and protection through the Joint Response Plan for Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis. Protection is considered as one of the four strategic objectives of JRP which includes child protection, sexual and gender-based violence, case management and prevention services, and mental health and psychosocial support. The work with regard to building resilience and disaster-mitigation skills are also commendable. Young Rohingya men and women are also given opportunity to work as volunteers.
You would agree that all these efforts on our side of the border, however efficient they are, would not bring about any lasting solution to the problem. Keeping them in the camps in Cox’s Bazaar forever will not give them the future they deserve. Their future lies in their own country, Myanmar.
Unfortunately, the situation in Myanmar has not changed since they fled. In fact, it has taken a turn for the worse after the military takeover in February 2021. Since then, what is worrying is the waning interest in the international community to the Rohingya crisis. This doesn’t help the Rohingyas at all. The coup appears to have put on hold efforts to find a solution to the crisis. The Rohingyas need a safe, secure and dignified environment in Myanmar to return to; as the rightful citizens of their country; and given the opportunity to contribute to long-term peace and development of Myanmar.
Allow me to share three specific points on the way forward:
First: the UN country team in Myanmar needs to strengthen its presence and its activities to ensure effective implementation of WPS and YPS agenda on the ground. It is unfortunate that despite so much of international attention and scrutiny, the UN country team in Myanmar failed to predict or alert on the February 2021 coup. Meanwhile, there has been no visible progress in the implementation of the MoU between UNDP/UNHCR and Myanmar.
There is a need for coherence among the UN agencies in Myanmar. The PBF funded projects for Myanmar should also include programmes in the Rakhine State to bring about communal harmony and building peace; that could contribute to bring about real changes among the different communities, especially the persecuted Rohingyas.
We welcome the 2022 Humanitarian Response Plan for Myanmar. It would be nice to hear from the UN in Myanmar on how the humanitarian response plan in Myanmar supports implementation WPS and YPS agenda there.
Second: In the camps in Cox’s Bazaar, as well as in Bhashan Char, community engagements, and awareness raising programmes on the role of women and youth should be scaled up. In addition, equipping the women and youth with basic education and skills is important – especially for their smooth reintegration in Rakhine when they return.
I am aware that the pandemic has slowed down the pace of progress of the women and youth-led peacebuilding activities in the camps. The informal education arrangement has suffered mostly, as the UNICEF-led learning centers remained close. UNICEF has also been assigned with the responsibility of providing Myanmar curriculum-based education in the camps, which needs to be implemented without delay.
Finally: Let us not forget that the Rohingya crisis is a political problem with humanitarian implications. While we do our best to ensure their empowerment through humanitarian assistance and response plans, the ultimate solution lies in the legal-political and structural reforms in Myanmar. They need recognition of their existence and strength and they need access to fundamental rights entitled to all human beings and citizens of that country.
And it is the responsibility of Myanmar to ensure that. We cannot let Myanmar get away denying these basic rights and perpetrating atrocities against the Rohingyas. Continued follow up of ICJ’s provisional measures is important in this regard. The military coup must not detract attention from these fundamental issues of state responsibility. There can be no lasting peace and stability without addressing these fundamental issues in the first place.
I will conclude by reiterating that we remain committed to protecting the Rohingyas who have taken shelter in our country; and we will work with the international community to finding a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis through their early, safe and dignified return back to their homeland Myanmar.
I thank you.