A young girl wearing a red scarf in a crowded classroom
Kutupalong refugee camp in eastern Bangladesh houses more than 30,000 people. Most are Rohingya from neighbouring Myanmar: Photo: Roger Arnold/UNHCR

Fathima*, aged 12, was in a temporary shelter in Kuthupalong camp when she was interviewed by the National Human Rights Commission of Bangladesh (NHRC) in their fact-finding mission to the Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh in September 2017. She reported her experience as part of the documentation collected by the NHRC. Her parents were killed before her eyes, her house was set on fire. She escaped despite receiving her own injuries and fled her home and village in the Rakhine state of Myanmar along with many others from her village.

I joined the Human Rights Commission in the fact-finding visit, and arriving in the camps, the scale of the crisis is immediately apparent. The Rohingya crisis of 2017 is the fastest, largest and the most concentrated refugee movement in the world in recent times. Since 25 August 2017, more than 600,000 Rohingya have crossed the border from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Allegations of gross violation of human rights and atrocities were reported during the investigations of the Commission, including allegations of serious human rights violations such as systematic torture and rape.

Moving beyond fact-finding and documentation, the Commission has helped to lead a multi-pronged human rights response to the crisis and provided a much-needed independent platform to foster collaboration. The Commission launched an advocacy drive calling for solidarity and support from regional and international peers of national human rights institutions and also reached out to the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission.

Over the last few months, the Government of Bangladesh has provided generous support and shelter to the refugees, but as the refugee population grows and as the duration of the displacement is prolonged, there is increased pressure on the host communities in Cox’s Bazar. Prices are fast rising, and there is growing competition for livelihoods resulting increased risks of tension and dispute between communities. Recognizing these dynamics, the Commission helped to convene a multi-religious leaders’ forum in Cox’s Bazar to discuss workable solutions and facilitate resolution of disputes between communities.

Despite efforts, there are many challenges, and the crisis is far from over. Collective actions are very much needed to surmount political obstacles and find avenues to uphold the spirit of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to ensure that justice, fairness and equality are truly for all.

UNDP advocates for strong institutions as cornerstones of a national systems for promotion and protection of human rights. One critical aspect of our work  is supporting national human rights institutions (NHRIs). We have supported over 90 NHRIs around the world and support the regional and global networks of NHRIs to promote and protect human rights. In Bangladesh, UNDP has been supporting the NHRC since 2010 to deliver on its mandate to promote and protect human rights, with a particular focus on the rights of marginalized groups.

As we celebrate the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the aspiration of the statement “all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights” continues to be a distant reality for some. Human rights are inherent, indivisible and universal. They are not rewards to be given and taken away. Nor are they time bound or limited by colour, caste or creed.  

*Not her real name

About the author
Sharmeela Rassool works in the UNDP Bangladesh as the Chief Technical Advisor on Justice and Human Rights. Follow her on Twitter: @Sha_Rassool


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