Three women Nobel laureates visit Bangladesh, fight for Rohingya cause

Staff Correspondent
Thursday, March 8th, 2018

Nobel Laureates Shirin Ebadi of Iran, left, Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland, second from left, and Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, right, meet Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at the Gono Bhaban on 28 February. Photo: Collected


At a time when the world witnessed completion of six-month period since Bangladesh got embroiled in the worst Rohingya persecution yet, three women Nobel laureates’ weeklong tour to Dhaka and refugee camps came as a much-needed solace to oppressed humanity. At the end of February they started a visit to Bangladesh, a country that has been playing host to over a million Rohingya people forced out from their native Rakhine state in Myanmar. The three Nobel peace laureates – Tawakkol Karman of Yemen, Shirin Ebadi of Iran and Mairead Maguire of Northern Ireland – called for an immediate end to the genocide in Rakhine against Rohingya people.


“We can’t remain silent. If we remain silent, we’re indeed complacent with this cruelties and crimes,” Maguire said at a press brief in Dhaka during their visit.She said they accuse Myanmar and its military of committing genocide and demanded that the perpetrators of these heinous crimes be brought to justice at the International Criminal Court.


They called on their fellow laureate Aung San SuuKyi and the Myanmar military to put an end to the killings and the persecution of Rohingya people. “She must stop turning a deaf ear to the persecution of the Rohingya or risk being complicit in the crimes. Wake up or face prosecution,” said Karman. The Nobel laureates, as women committed to peace, urged SuuKyi to exercise her personal and moral responsibility to stop the genocide. “If she fails to do so, her choice is clear: resign or be held accountable, along with the army commanders, for the crimes committed,” Karman said. “Time has come to break [the] silence. We need help to make sure our voices are heard,” Shirin Ebadi said at the same press brief event.


Mairead Maguire said all the countries must stand for humanity. She urged all the countries to work as ‘entire human family’ for a peaceful solution to the crisis saying all have the moral obligation to speak for Rohingya people and stop the crisis. “We’re the human family. We need to speak and stand beside Rohingya people. We need a united voice. Today, we need science of peace,” said Maguire while Shirin Ebadi laid emphasis on building global public opinion and sought an active role for the journalists so that their voices for Rohingya people are heard. She urged all the countries to show more interest in humanity instead of only concentrating on economic interest.


“With over a million Rohingyas displaced, countless dead or missing and rape and sexual violence being used as a weapon of war, it is well past the time for the international community to act,” said Shirin Ebadi.Karman said they have a plan to visit Myanmar and they sent several messages to SuuKy but ‘unfortunately’ she did not respond. “We need to see what’s happening there.”The Nobel laureates urged SuuKyi to do something different breaking her silence and take back Rohingya to their homeland from Bangladesh. They demanded citizenship rights for Rohingya people so that they can have a peaceful and dignified life on their own land. They said SuuKyi is not telling the truth to the world. “She has to tell the truth or she can resign.”


The Nobel laureates in partnership with Bangladesh women’s organisationNaripokkho spent time listening to stories, meeting over 100 women in Cox’s Bazar district and travelling to ‘no man’s land’ where thousands of Rohingya have been stranded between Myanmar and Bangladesh.


After hearing testimonies describing how security forces burned villages, tortured, killed and systematically raped women and girls as well as reports from humanitarian organisations and UN officials the Nobel laureates concluded that the ongoing attacks on Rohingyas amount to crimes against humanity and genocide. The Nobel laureates heard how Rohingya women have been twice victimised — for being Rohingyas and for being women. They described stories of horrific violence and systematic mass rape.


Nobel laureates appalled by Rohingya miseries


They listened to the horrific tales from Rohingya women and hugged each other. Tears rolled down from eyes of the visiting Nobel laureates and Rohingya women. A mood of grief and sorrow descended on the no man’s land along Bangladesh-Myanmar border on February 27. Two of the three women Nobel laureates –Tawakkol Karman and Mairead Maguire – visited the place where as many as 6,000 people got stranded.


Thousands remain without food, water or sanitation; they have no access to help in a no man’s land between the two countries, threatened with repatriation. The Nobel laureates became speechless after listening to the tales that described how they have gone through a tough time amid tortures by the Myanmar military and how they were raped. They also inquired about their current situation and assured that they will share their sufferings with the international community.


Rohingya leader at the no man’s land Dil Mohammad said the Nobel laureates listened to horrific tales of four Rohingya women in details which made them emotional. Earlier after meeting officials at the Refugee Relief & Repatriation Commission in Cox’s Bazar, Shirin Ebadi explained that her visit with fellow women Nobel laureates, Tawakkol Karman and Mairead Maguire to the Rohingya refugee camps in the area is to gather information that could lead to an official International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation. They said, the ICC prosecutor should open an independent investigation into crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated in Rakhine State. They also demanded a comprehensive arms embargo on Myanmar.


They were here to make a strong statement of support and solidarity with Rohingya women, bearing witness to their plight in what is now said to have become the world’s biggest refugee camp. The Nobel Women’s Initiative in collaboration with its partner in Bangladesh, Naripokkho, organisedthe delegation to Bangladesh to better understand the situation of the Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh. In particular, the delegation focused on the violence against Rohingya women-including high levels of sexual violence.


They also gained a better understanding of the assistance and protection being provided by the Bangladeshi government and local communities, including the challenges they face, and the role of local and international organizations providing support to the Rohingya women in the camps and elsewhere. During this visit the three Nobel peace laureates also met Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina at her official residence Ganobhaban and thanked her as well as the people of Bangladesh for standing beside the forcibly displaced Myanmar citizens. They called Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina a ‘kind mother’. During that meeting they narrated the stories heard from the Rohingya refugees who have taken shelter in Cox’s Bazar. They said they were shocked to hear the atrocities on the Rohingyas as it is simply genocide. They wondered how the world can remain silent. They mentioned that Bangladesh now needs more international assistance for rehabilitation of the Rohingyas.


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