UN Secretary-General: intervene in Rohingya repatriation ‘pilot project’ and investigate UNHCR and WFP’s involvement

Joint Statement

The undersigned 201 civil society organizations strongly condemn UN’s participation in the so-called ‘pilot project’ to repatriate Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar. The undersigned organizations are appalled by the UN’s clandestine participation and involvement in facilitating a visit of Myanmar military junta to Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. The UN agencies that were involved in the visit reportedly removed UN markings from the boats which were used to transport members of the junta to Cox’s Bazar. This is yet another extension of the long-standing pattern of the UN’s deliberately opaque involvement in the attempts to forcibly repatriate Rohingya refugees in absence of conditions in Myanmar for their safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return. This exposes the UN’s lack of so-called “neutrality” in Myanmar, and its ongoing failure to uphold basic humanitarian principles of humanity, impartiality and “do no harm”, further eroding Myanmar people’s trust in the work of the UN.

The most recent visit of the junta to Cox’s Bazar on 15 March 2023 as part of this ‘pilot project’ for repatriation which took place reportedly with participation of UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the World Food Programme (WFP) is a result of a bilateral agreement between the illegal Myanmar military junta and Bangladesh, mediated by the Chinese Government. As the Special Rapporteur has described in his most recent conference paper, the Myanmar military junta’s attempt to seize power from legitimately elected representatives of the people of Myanmar elected in the 2020 General Election “was illegal, and its claim as Myanmar’s government is illegitimate.”

The UN Secretary-General must immediately intervene to prevent Rohingya survivors of genocide from being sent back to the killing fields. Rohingya in Rakhine State continue to be persecuted, denied their right to citizenship under a system of apartheid. They are confined to camps without freedom of movement and cut off from access to food and essential services including health, education and livelihood. The same perpetrators of genocide and crimes against humanity continue to commit atrocity crimes with total impunity throughout the country since the attempted coup of 1 February 2021. Prior to the attempted coup, they have committed genocide against Rohingya and crimes against humanity and war crimes against other ethnic minorities for decades, as documented by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission.

The Secretary-General must also urgently investigate the involvement of UNHCR and WFP in the pilot repatriation project. Importantly, the Secretary-General must develop an action plan that meaningfully and urgently implements the recommendations of the “Rosenthal Report” which found systemic and institutional failures on the part of the UN in Myanmar leading up to and during the genocide in 2017. The 2022 update by the Secretary-General on the “Progress made in the implementation of follow-up action to the recommendations” of the Rosenthal Report failed to address the grave issues specific to Myanmar that were identified in the Rosenthal Report. The report did not satisfy the UN Human Rights Council’s call for a “comprehensive” investigation and did not reflect the extraordinary gravity of UN’s systemic failure in Myanmar.

The internal communication from the UN’s top official, as outlined by the Myanmar Accountability Project, exposes the UNHCR’s willingness to capitulate to the genocidal military junta despite “UNHCR’s assessment that conditions in Rakhine State (to which they will be returned) are currently not conducive to the safe and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees.” The UNHCR’s decision to prioritize its relationship with the military junta and the Bangladeshi Government above safety, security and revictimization of Rohingya refugees points to the broader UN approach which is completely out of touch with the reality on the ground. Rather than protecting refugees, the agency is therefore repeating its past mistakes by putting the lives of refugees at risk.

The Rosenthal Report also speaks to the failure of the UN’s collective membership, represented by the UN Security Council, that did not act to provide support to the Secretariat and more importantly, the victims of genocide, when such backing was essential. Yet, over the five years since the genocide, we have yet to see a UN Security Council resolution that imposes a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions against the military and refers the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.

The current situation of the Rohingya cannot be divorced from the wider political, humanitarian and human rights crises in Myanmar, which are caused by the very perpetrators of genocide. The Rohingya’s long and immensely difficult plight cannot be resolved by yielding to the demands of the junta and returning them into the hands of perpetrators of their genocide. It must be addressed with meaningful participation of Rohingya themselves in any decision making that involves their lives and future and by robust and strong actions to end the military’s impunity by pursuing justice and accountability for the victims and survivors.

The UN must also ensure accountability for the repeated cycles of individual and institutional failures within its system at the highest levels.

It is time that the UN acts to end its shameful systemic and structural failures and support the victims and survivors of genocide and the people of Myanmar instead of the war criminals and the genocidal junta. In this respect, we call on the UN Secretary-General to investigate the operations of UN agencies in Myanmar and ensure that their involvement and contribution do not lead to further human rights violations of the people of Myanmar.

For more information, please contact:

Signed by 201 civil society organizations including 30 civil society organizations who have chosen to not disclose their names:

  1. 8888 Generation (New Zealand)
  2. Action Against Myanmar Military Coup (Sydney)
  3. Action Committee for Democracy Development (Coalition of 14 grassroots networks)
  4. Active Youths (Kalay)
  5. Ah Nah Podcast – Conversations with Myanmar
  6. La. Ka (12) Hta Khwe. Primary Education Student Union
  7. All Burma Democratic Front in New Zealand
  8. All Burma Indigenous People Alliance
  9. All Religions Strike Column
  10. ALTSEAN-Burma
  11. Arakan CSO Network
  12. Arakan Time Rohingya Daily News
  13. Asian Dignity Initiative
  14. Rohingya Human Rights Center
  15. Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)
  16. Association of Human Rights Defenders and Promoters
  17. Association Suisse Birmanie (ASB)
  18. Athan – Freedom of Expression Activist Organization
  19. Auckland Kachin Community NZ
  20. Auckland Zomi Community
  21. Aung Myay Thar Zan Education Schools Strike Column
  22. Aung Pin Lae Main Strike Column
  23. Ayeyarwaddy west Development Organization (AWDO, Magway Region)
  24. AYN Ayeyarwady Youth Network
  25. Blooming Padauk
  26. Burma Action Ireland
  27. Burma Affairs and Conflict Study – BACS
  28. Burma Campaign UK
  29. Burma Civil War Museum (BCM)
  30. Burma Human Rights Network
  31. Burma Support
  32. Burmese Community Group (Manawatu, NZ)
  33. Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
  34. Burmese Rohingya Welfare Organisation New Zealand
  35. Burmese Women’s Union
  36. Cambodian Americans and Friends for Democracy and Human Right Advocate, CA
  37. Campaign for Popular Democracy (CPD), Thailand
  38. CDM Support Team Mandalay (CSTM)
  39. Chan Mya Thar Si Township People Strike Column
  40. Chin Community of Auckland
  41. Civil Information Network – CIN
  42. Cooperative University Student Strike Column
  43. Courage Fund, Cambodia
  44. CRPH & NUG Supporters Ireland
  45. CRPH Funding Ireland
  46. CRPH, NUG Support Team Germany-Deutschland
  47. Daung Sit Thi
  48. Dawei Development Association DDA
  49. Doh Atu – Ensemble pour le Myanmar
  50. Education Family (Anti – Fascists Education Strike Columns Coordination Committee)
  51. Educational Initiatives Prague
  52. Equality Myanmar
  53. Ethnic Youth General Strike Committee
  54. Federal FM (Mandalay)
  55. Federal Myanmar Benevolence Group (NZ)
  56. Finland-Myanmar Association
  57. Free Rohingya Coalition
  58. Future Thanlwin
  59. Generation Wave
  60. German Solidarity with Myanmar Democracy eV
  61. Global Myanmar Spring Revolution (GMSR)
  62. Grass-root People
  63. Human Rights Educators Network
  64. Human Rights Foundation of Monland
  65. International Association, Myanmar-Switzerland (IAMS)
  66. India For Myanmar
  67. Info Birmanie
  68. Japan Myanmar Help Network (comprising of over 40 youth groups in Japan)
  69. Justice 4 Rohingya UK
  70. Justice for Myanmar
  71. Kachin Women’s Association Thailand
  72. Karen Environmental and Social Action Network
  73. Karen Human Rights Group
  74. Karen Peace Support Network
  75. Karen Swedish Community
  76. Karen Women’s Organization
  77. Karenni Civil Society Network
  78. Karenni Human Rights Group (KnHRG)
  79. Karenni National Women Organization
  80. Karenni Society New Zealand
  81. Kyae Lak Myay
  82. Kyaukse University Students’ Union
  83. Land In Our Hands
  84. LGBTIQ Strike of Mandalay
  85. Maha Aung Myay Township People Collective Strike Column
  86. Mandalar University Student Strike Column
  87. Mandalay Alliance Strike Collective Column
  88. Mandalay Based People Strike Column
  89. Mandalay Civil Society Organizations
  90. Mandalay Engineer Group
  91. Mandalay Engineer United Force
  92. Mandalay Regional Youth Association (MRYA)
  93. Mandalay University Student Alumni Union
  94. Mandalay Wholesale Strike Column
  95. Mandalay Youth Strike Column
  96. Me Boun Foundation
  97. Medical Family – Mandalay
  98. Metta Campaign Mandalay
  99. MIIT Student Strike Column
  100. Minbu Farmer Group
  101. Minhla Development Organization
  102. Muslim Youth Union
  103. Mya Taung Strike Column
  104. Myanmar Accountability Project
  105. Myanmar Action Group Denmark
  106. Myanmar anti-military coup movement in New Zealand
  107. Myanmar Campaign Network
  108. Myanmar Community Group Christchurch New Zealand
  109. Myanmar Community Group Dunedin New Zealand
  110. Myanmar Cultural Research Society (MCRS)
  111. Myanmar Diaspora Group Finland
  112. Myanmar Engineers – New Zealand
  113. Myanmar Gonye (New Zealand)
  114. Myanmar People Alliance (Shan State)
  115. Myanmar Railway, Region (3) CDM Strike Column
  116. Myanmar Students’ Union in New Zealand
  117. Myaung Education Network
  118. Myaung Medical Team နွေဦးရောင်နီဆေးအဖွဲ့
  119. Naphe Development Organization
  120. Nelson Myanmar Community Group New Zealand
  121. Network for Human Rights Documentation Network Burma (ND-Burma)
  122. New Zealand Doctors for NUG
  123. New Zealand Karen Association
  124. New Zealand Zo Community Inc.
  125. New Rehmonnya Federated Force (NRFF)
  126. No 7 State High School Alumni Strike Column
  127. Nway Oo Guru Lay Myar
  128. Overseas Mon Association. New Zealand
  129. Padauk
  130. Pakokku Youth Development Council
  131. Pan Pa Wash People Strike Column
  132. Phayagye Peace Strike Column
  133. Private Pre-school Teachers Association
  134. Progressive Voice
  135. Pwintphyu Development Organization (Magway Region)
  136. Pyi Gyi Ta Gon Strike
  137. Pyithu Gonye (New Zealand)
  138. Rohingya Action Ireland (RAI)
  139. Rvwang Community Association New Zealand
  140. RW Welfare Society
  141. Sangha Samaga Strike Column
  142. Save and Care Organization for Ethnic Women at Border Areas
  143. Save Myanmar Fundraising Group (New Zealand
  144. SEA Junction
  145. Sein Pan Strike Column
  146. Shan Community (New Zealand)
  147. Sisters 2 Sisters
  148. Southern Youth Development Organization
  149. Strike Column of Representatives of Arbitrarily Arrested People
  150. Strike Column of Teachers from Universities and Degree Colleges of Mandalay
  151. Support Group for Democracy in Myanmar (The Netherlands)
  152. Ta’ang Women’s Organization
  153. Taekwondo Sport Association
  154. Tanintharyi Nationalities Congress TNC
  155. Tenasserim Student Unions’ Network – TSUN
  156. Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB)
  157. Thapaynyo News Letter
  158. The European Rohingya Council (ERC)
  159. The Ladies
  160. The Netherlands Myanmar Solidarity Platform
  161. Think Centre (Singapore)
  162. Trip Net
  163. U.S. Campaign for Burma
  164. White Coat Society Yangon
  165. With Myanmar UK
  166. Women Activists Myanmar (WAM)
  167. Women’s League of Burma
  168. Yangon Medical Network
  169. Youths for Community-Myaung
  170. ပွင့်ဖြူလယ်ယာမြေကွန်ရက်
  171. မျိုးဆက်-Generations