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Bangladesh maintained its commitment to safe Rohingya repatriation: UK

The UK has said Bangladesh continued to play a vital role in hosting a significant number of Rohingya people noting that there was “no improvement” in the overall human rights situation in Bangladesh in 2019.

Bangladesh maintained its commitment to the voluntary, safe, and dignified return of the Rohingyas to Myanmar, according to the Human Rights and Democracy: The  2019 Foreign and Commonwealth Office report released on Thursday.

Rohingyas are the world’s largest population of stateless people displaced by the actions of the Tatmadaw (the Myanmar army).

There were reports of significant criminality in the refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, where approximately 855,000 Rohingya refugees are living, the report mentioned in its Bangladesh part.

These included murder (around 30 cases), gender-based violence, abduction, illegal drug trading, and human trafficking.

The government introduced additional police stations, fences around the camps, and limited night-time patrols by mixed security forces, the UK report mentioned.

In September, the government introduced restrictions on access to the internet in the camps, citing security concerns following a peaceful rally in the Kutupalong camp on 25 August, a number of violent incidents and increased tension with host communities, said the report.

To help manage the protracted Rohingya crisis, the UK committed an additional £117 million, delivered through UN agencies and NGOs, prioritising the protection of rights, including essential documentation, child protection, anti-trafficking measures, case management for survivors of abuse and exploitation, and legal assistance services.

The total UK commitment since August 2017 stood at £256 million.

The UK supported Bangladesh and other partners to enable the presence of Rohingya refugees at the International Court of Justice hearings on Myanmar in December.

More broadly in Bangladesh, UK programme funds supported projects addressing human rights priorities including modern slavery (female migrant workers’ rights); democratic governance (indigenous people’s inclusion); freedom of expression (research on the DSA and digital advocacy); and media freedom, according to the report.

The ruling Awami League and its allies returned to power in December 2018, winning 96% of parliamentary seats.

The number of death sentences issued increased, and at least two executions were carried out.

Throughout the year, UK ministers met opposition politicians, media representatives, and indigenous leaders, and in April the then Minister for Asia, Mark Field, raised human rights concerns with Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, said the UK report.

Under the 2018 Digital Security Act (DSA), 42 people were arrested, often on charges of hurting religious sentiment, or undermining law and order, said the report.

The provisions of the DSA were criticised as empowering the government to arrest and detain journalists, human rights activists, and political opponents.

In July, Bangladesh submitted its initial country report to the UN Committee Against Torture on measures it had taken to uphold its commitments under the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (UNCAT).

Bangladesh’s engagement with the Committee, the first time since its accession to UNCAT in 1998, was welcomed.

Gender-based violence remained a concern, highlighted by the murder of Nusrat Jahan Rafi, a female madrassah student who complained to the police about harassment by her principal according to the report.

Women habitually are harassed in public, making travelling on foot or public transport difficult, it said.