Friday, April 06, 2018
Amnesty International supports Bangladesh’s position on Rohingya crisis: Secretary General Salil Shetty
Nurul Islam Hasib bdnews24.com
Published: 2018-04-05 19:00:02.0 BdST Updated: 2018-04-06 00:30:15.0 BdST
“Our position is very much in support of Bangladesh government,” Secretary General Salil Shetty toldbdnews24.com in an exclusive interview on Thursday in Dhaka, adding that his organisation would continue to push “hard” for the accountability of the violence against the Rohingya people in Myanmar.
“Bangladesh should get trade and comprehensive support as it has lost 1% of its GDP (to Rohingya crisis),” Amnesty International Secretary General Salil Shetty tells bdnews24.com in an exclusive interview in Dhaka.
He said Bangladesh deserves credit for welcoming the Rohingya refugees at a time when the world has witnessed that rich countries were refusing refugees. He praised it as an “inspiration” for others and said Bangladesh has taken “positive approach”.
But he warned that the issue is losing global attention by the day. He sought Bangladesh’s support to keep the issue “visible” with intense global campaign.
Myanmar military’s relentless campaign of violence has driven more than 700,000 Rohingya across the border to Bangladesh since August last year.
On Aug 25, 2017, Myanmar’s army launched a military operation against the Rohingya civilian population across northern Rakhine State, after the armed group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), attacked around 30 security force outposts.
Amnesty International which was using testimony, satellite image and video evidence earlier said crimes against humanity committed by the military include the widespread killing of women, men, and children; rape and other forms of sexual violence against women and girls; mass deportation; and the systematic burning of villages.
Shetty came to Bangladesh on Tuesday with a “singular focus” on Rohingya and visited Cox’s Bazar camps where he talked with the Rohingya women and children, apart from the camps in charge and local host communities.
Shetty met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Thursday when he called on her to ensure a voluntary return of Rohingyas with safety and security conditions in the Rakhine State as Bangladesh and Myanmar signed repatriation deals.
He said he raised three points at the meeting. The first is that the AI is going to continue to push hard for the accountability of the Myanmar military. But for that Shetty sought support of the Bangladesh government so that access of the investigators, researchers, and journalists remain as open as it is now.
“The issue has slightly lost its visibility at the global stage. We need to give it a big push. The campaign is already there. What we need is to give it a push,” he said, citing their ‘I welcome’ campaign which was launched before for the refugees’ rights.
Bangladesh government can do more to make the issue “more visible” because the international community will increase their support to Bangladesh only when the problem is visible and there is public pressure.
“Our view is that it’s not just the aid support, but there should be adequate support, the trade side; it should be a comprehensive support for Bangladesh which has already lost 1 percent of its GDP because of the Rohingya crisis. “It’s not a small impact, I think international community should step up for the crisis.”
Within the camps, the AI secretary-general said, the government has to make more efforts for women and children to address the gender-based violence issue and education, and also ensure food security.
“We know that it’s difficult for the Bangladesh government and the reality is that the current situation in camps is not sustainable. And it’s creating tension. And there are conflicts also with the host community,” he said. But Shetty said the fact that they are being treated as human being now is a big thing for them after being subjected to decades of systematic discrimination in Myanmar.
Asked about the government’s relocation plan to Bhashanchar which has drawn criticism from the international community, he said: “Our position is that any relocation within Bangladesh which respects the rights of the Rohingya is a good thing. Does Bhashanchar respect the rights of the Rohingyas? We don’t know because the facts are not available still.”
He noted the UN is now sending a technical group to the area to assess the condition of the river island. Asked how AI would hold Myanmar military to account, he said they have different methods both through the legal routes and campaigning.
Shetty said his organisation is “very active” in different multilateral systems such as human rights council, international criminal court, and the UN Security Council. All of these are very active to push governments hold Myanmar to account.
He said they are also making a lot of campaigns in the influential countries with their seven millions members, activists and supporter worldwide. Each member puts pressure on their governments to do the right thing. “So it’s not just the legal route, it’s also public opinion and campaigning route. This is not a simple issue, it’s complex, but we are constantly fighting this.”
The Amnesty top official said they are also familiar with the position of the UN Security Council members which he said is traditionally divided between the Western power, and the China and Russia. “It’s a familiar story,” he said, “But we have been able to push the Security Council delegation to visit Bangladesh. The delegation will come to Bangladesh later in April.”
“So it’s not a closed chapter [in the Security Council]. There has been nothing at that scale in the last several decades, the whole world knows it. I think there is a lot of moral pressure, public pressure, even on China and Russia,” he said.
Shetty was asked about the credibility of the AI as its comments on Bangladesh war crimes trial have been regarded as taking sides with the Jamaat-e-Islami, the party that supported Pakistan in 1971 in the war of independence.
He said their job is to seek the truth. “It’s a Nobel Peace Prize-winning organisation. When governments are in opposition, they like `Amnesty, but when they are in power, they don’t like Amnesty,” he said, adding that when leaders are in prison, Amnesty fight for them.
“We have no political affiliation. We have no religious affiliation. We take no money from the governments, from companies. All money comes from individual supporters. So we are absolutely free to speak the truth.”
Shetty said Aung San Suu Kyi was somebody that AI fought for 20 years. She was a “prisoner of conscience”. But today she is silent on the question of Rohngyas, but that does not mean “we are going to stop raising the issue”.
According to him, Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has appreciated Amnesty’s campaigning and push for accountability. “They see the value of Amnesty fighting for this at international stage as an independent voice. We have a certain level of credibility.” “We can say the truth without any hesitation. We have all facts collected directly by our own researchers.”
The London-based group has been questioning the process of the war crimes trial in Bangladesh and at one stage said: “Serious crimes were also committed by the pro-independence forces, but no one has been investigated or brought to justice for them.”
When his attention was drawn to that comment, he said his visit is focused only on the Rohingya question. “We are not talking about the domestic issue of Bangladesh. The principle for us is that justice has to be even handed, there has to be fair trial,” he said.
“We are openly supporting that (Rohingya) position, but that does not mean we don’t have concern on the domestic side of human rights in Bangladesh. We will come back to that. Today is not the time.”
He said the main point he conveyed to the Bangladesh government is that the government should be firm that there is no forceful return. He said despite facing huge brutality in the Rakhine State, the Rohingyas still want to go their homes in Myanmar if you ask them.
“But the question is how they can go back until the condition is safe, until their livelihood is assured, until they have a shelter house to go back, until they have equal rights like other citizens of Myanmar.”
He acknowledged the “immense burden” Bangladesh has taken and the pressure the local community is facing. Shetty, an Indian, joined Amnesty International as the organisation’s eighth secretary-general in 2010. He is known as a long-term activist on poverty and justice.