Sheikh Hasina Wazed
Peoples’ Republic of Bangladesh
November 15, 2018
Madam Prime Minister,
I am writing to express my deep concern regarding recent reports that your government is taking steps
to send thousands of Rohingya back to Myanmar in the coming days. You demonstrated an amazing
degree of compassion and humanity when you directed your government to allow hundreds of
thousands of Rohingya fleeing violence in Myanmar into Bangladesh. Your decision saved countless lives,
and the international community has rightly applauded you for this incredible act. I urge you to maintain
this sense of compassion and humanity, and halt these returns until they are genuinely voluntary.
When we met in July, you made clear that you would never allow your government to forcibly send
Rohingya back to Myanmar; any repatriations, you told me, would be purely voluntary. I welcomed your
commitment to voluntariness, and you and I were able to speak on the basis of mutual understanding
and friendship about the plight of the Rohingya, and the need for Myanmar to make systematic reforms
before the Rohingya people would voluntarily return.
As you know, after you and I had the pleasure of meeting, I traveled to Cox’s Bazar and spent time in
the refugee camps. There I listened to horrific stories of violence and persecution in Myanmar. The
clearance operations of August, 2017 were clearly intended to eliminate the Rohingya Muslim population
from Myanmar. Everyone I spoke to in the camps was so grateful that the government and people of
Bangladesh provided them with a safe place to escape from violence, likely saving tens of thousands of
lives or more. I conveyed your promise that no Rohingya would be sent back against their will. I have
repeated your promise around the world when speaking about our conversation.
Over the past week I have been dismayed to read that your government is planning to send Rohingya
back starting as soon as this month. Numerous observers, including the UN Special Rapporteur on
Human Rights in Myanmar, have expressed serious concerns that the Myanmar government has done
nothing to enact the types of reforms that would all for voluntary returns.The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has said that “Because we consider that conditions in Rakhine state are not yet conducive for voluntary return in the conditions of safety, dignity and sustainability, UNHCR will not, at this stage, facilitate any refugee returns to Rakhine state.
In fact, a member of your own government said just several months ago that conditions in Myanmar are not yet sufficient for return.3 Rohingya leaders are expressing fear and anxiety that they are about to be forced back to Myanmar, a country from which they had to flee little more than a year ago, and which has done nothing to suggest that conditions will be any different now.
I urge you to work with UNHCR to ensure that any repatriations are genuinely voluntary. The Rohingya
who would return must be consulted and given a choice as to whether to go back to Myanmar or remain
in the camps in Bangladesh. There must be a transparent process for determining voluntariness, and Myanmar must commit to safeguarding the rights and safety of those who return.
I urge you to exercise the compassion and humanity that led you to allow Rohingya into Bangladesh in
the first place. If you send Rohingya back now in a manner that is less than voluntary, you will squander
the good will that the international community has for Bangladesh, and for yourself. Of more concern,
the Rohingya who are forced to return will likely find themselves subject again to human rights abuses
at the hands of the Myanmar government and military. Their journey to Bangladesh will have been for
naught, and the government of Bangladesh will be implicated.
I thank you for considering this request and truly hope you will reevaluate the plans to return Rohingya
refugees with the same compassion you demonstrated when you first opened the doors of your country
to them over a year ago.
Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights