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Spate of Bangladesh ‘Crossfire’ Killings of Rohingya

Police Fatally Shoot 6 Refugees in Cox’s Bazar

Rohingya refugees gather in an open field at Kutupalong refugee camp in Ukhia, Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh to commemorate the two-year anniversary of the Myanmar military’s ethnic cleansing campaign in Rakhine State on August 25, 2019.  © 2019 K M Asad/LightRocket via Getty Images

Bangladesh police have now killed six Rohingya refugees they claim were involved in the August 22 murder of Omar Faruk, a local leader of the ruling Awami League’s youth organization, in Cox’s Bazar.

Several United Nations human rights experts warned the Bangladesh government that ensuring justice for Faruk’s murder should not be “reactionary, summary and ad hoc.” Forcibly disappearing or killing suspects after taking them into custody has long been a problem in Bangladesh. After the recent killings, Bangladesh authorities said that these people were killed in “crossfire” or a “gunfight.” These familiar explanations are often an euphemism for extrajudicial executions.

The killings have created a climate of intense fear in the area’s refugee camps.

There are nearly one million Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh after fleeing atrocities committed by the Myanmar military. Tensions increased after the Bangladesh governmentattempted to begin repatriation of Rohingya, which failed because refugees fearedconditions in Myanmar remained unsafe.

Faruk’s murder sparked violent attacks against Rohingya by some in the host community. One refugee living in Camp 27 told Human Rights Watch that local residents continue to “threaten to beat or kill them,” saying “‘Why don't you [Rohingya] leave our land?’”

Instead of quelling the tensions, law enforcement officers allegedly refused to intervene and protect the refugees from these attacks. The authorities also engaged in collective punishmentcutting access to the internet and instructing carrier companies to halt the sale of SIM cards and phone connections to refugees, insisting that it was necessary to contain criminal activities. 

The Bangladesh government is navigating a precarious security environment in Cox’s Bazar, heightened by the influx of 700,000 Rohingya refugees since the Myanmar government’s ethnic cleansing campaign since late 2017. But every measure should be a proportionate response to specific risks and ensure the protection of basic rights. 

Considering the long history of rights violations by security forces in Bangladesh, authorities should send an unequivocal message that abuses will not be tolerated. People who fled massacres should not have to fear for their lives again.

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