Bangladesh: Immediately lift ban on Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Action against Hunger (ACF) and Muslim Aid UK

Posted on | augustus 5, 2012 | No Comments

Médecins Sans Frontières logoMrs. Sheikh Hasina, Prime Minister of Bangladesh, or or

RE: Bangladesh: Immediately lift ban on Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), Action against Hunger (ACF) and Muslim Aid UK

Dear Prime Minister Hasina,

I am William Nicholas Gomes, Human Rights Ambassador for

From media reports I came to know that recently your government has ordered three international charities France’s Doctors without Borders (Médecins Sans Frontières-MSF) and Action Against Hunger (ACF) as well as Britain’s Muslim Aid UK to stop providing aid to Rohingya refugees who cross the border to flee persecution and violence in Myanmar.

According to the media report , In a letter to Muslim Aid UK, Bangladesh’s NGO Affairs Bureau accused the charity of illegally helping the undocumented Rohingya refugees using its Non-Formal Education Training and Livelihood Support for the Vulnerable Families in Cox’s Bazar.

It said the project was encouraging the entry of the Myanmar people into Bangladesh, said the letter.

Golam Sarwar, security coordinator of Muslim Aid UK in Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh, confirmed that his group had stopped its Rohingya project following the order.

A senior aid worker, who did not wish to be identified for fear of government reprisals, said he feared that “the impact of the government’s move would be catastrophic and cause a humanitarian crisis”.

The NGO Affairs Bureau, which is a wing under the prime minister’s office, accused MSF of “damaging the image of Bangladesh by running negative news in the international media” about difficult conditions faced by the Rohingya.

According to the report of BBC, International charity MSF says tens of thousands of people in Bangladesh will go without critical healthcare if it is not allowed to work near a camp for Burmese Muslim Rohingya refugees.

Some 100,000 people, both Bangladeshis and Burmese Rohingya refugees, depend on MSF’s services, the group says.

The charity runs a maternity care centre and supports malnourished children in a district bordering Burma.

MSF’s health facility is located close to a Rohingya refugee camp.

“We have dozens of people in our in patient care. Seven women in the maternity unit and one of them is currently labouring. Where do they go it we have to close our activities?” MSF’s Christopher Lockyear told the BBC.

The charities were providing healthcare, food and water to thousands of refugees and Bangladeshis in the Cox’s Bazaar district in south-eastern Bangladesh.

Thousands have fled communal violence in Burma’s Rakhine state since May.

Mr Lockyear has urged the Bangladeshi government to withdraw its decision to ban their services from Cox’s Bazaar district.

“We would like to be able to open a dialogue and [see] how we can resolve the situation,” Mr Lockyear said.

The MSF runs two other programmes in different parts of Bangladesh, which have been running without any problem.

I want to remind you that international community has an obligation to assist with the costs of providing sanctuary.

I also want to remind you On June 12, Human Rights Watch issued a statement which not only called on your government to open its borders to refugees, but which also said, “Bangladesh needs generous support right now from the international community to assist the refugees fleeing Arakan State and to find durable solutions later on.”

I want to remind you what human rights watch mentioned in letter to you.

Bangladesh’s Treaty Obligations To Respect the Principle of Nonrefoulement

While Bangladesh is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention or its 1967 Protocol, it is a party to other treaties, including the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment of Punishment (CAT), the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). These treaties establish the obligation to respect the principle of nonrefoulement, which holds that refugees should not be forcibly returned to a place where their lives or freedom would be threatened and that no person should be returned to a place where he or she would be subjected to torture.

Article 3 of CAT forbids the return or expulsion of any persons to states where they would be in danger of being tortured. Article 7.1 of the ICCPR forbids subjecting anyone to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The United Nations Human Rights Committee, Comment 20 (1992), establishes an obligation that states “must not expose individuals to the danger of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment upon return to any country by way of their extradition, expulsion or refoulement.” (HRI/HEN/1/Rev.1, 28 July 1994). In its General Comment 6 (2005), the Committee on the Rights of the Child stated that the CRC, article 6, establishes an obligation that States party to the CRC “[…] shall not return a child to a country where there are substantial grounds for believing that there is a real risk of irreparable harm to the child, such as, but by no means limited to, those contemplated under articles 6.” (CRC/GC/2005/6.)

Bangladesh’s Customary International Law Obligations on the Principle of Nonrefoulement

The Foreign Minister also said, “Some are trying to say that Bangladesh should open the border in line with the international customary law. But I want to say that Bangladesh does not fall under the purview of the law.” This, too, is inaccurate. Customary international law establishes certain peremptory norms for which no derogation is tolerated. Among these, for example, are slavery, torture, and, in the present instance, the forcible return of a person to a place where his or her life or freedom would be threatened or where he or she would be exposed to torture. No state, including Bangladesh, is exempt from these fundamental norms.

UNHCR’s Executive Committee—of which Bangladesh is a member—adopted Conclusion 25 in 1982, which declared that “the principle of nonrefoulement…was progressively acquiring the character of a peremptory rule of international law.” The UN General Assembly reinforced the international consensus that the nonrefoulement obligation adheres to all states, not just signatories to the Refugee Convention, when it adopted Resolution 51/75 on August 12, 1997, which:

[C]alls upon all States to uphold asylum as an indispensable instrument for international protection of refugees and to respect scrupulously the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement, which is not subject to derogation.

On the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the Refugee Convention in 2001, the Declaration of States Parties to the 1951 Convention and/or its 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees acknowledged “the continuing relevance and resilience of this international regime of rights and principles, including at its core the principle of nonrefoulement, whose applicability is embedded in customary international law.” Later that year, the UN General Assembly welcomed the Declaration.

Nonrefoulement obligation adheres to asylum seekers at the border

The principle of nonrefoulement as a customary norm of international law applies not only to refugees within the territory of a state, but also to rejection of asylum seekers at the frontiers. In its October 2004 meeting, UNHCR’s Executive Committee issued Conclusion 99, which calls on States to ensure “full respect for the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement, including non-rejection at frontiers without access to fair and effective procedures for determining status and protection needs.”

Of particular relevance to states facing the prospect of a large-scale influx of refugees fleeing sectarian violence in a neighboring state, UNHCR’s Executive Committee Conclusion 22 of 1981 provided the following standard to guide the host state’s response:

In situations of large-scale influx, asylum seekers should be admitted to the State in which they first seek refuge and if that State is unable to admit them on a durable basis, it should always admit them at least on a temporary basis…They should be admitted without any discrimination as to race, religion, political opinion, nationality, country of origin, or physical incapacity. In all cases the fundamental principle of nonrefoulement—including non-rejection at the frontier—must be scrupulously observed.

The Right to Seek and Enjoy Asylum

The UNHCR Executive Committee conclusion 20, quoted just above, which calls on states like Bangladesh faced with a potential mass influx to “admit at least on a temporary basis” asylum seekers at its border, rests on the foundation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), article 14: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

I recognize that the principles of the UDHR are not binding on states, but I note that many states, including Bangladesh, have pledged to uphold these principles. In a May 4, 2009, letter to the President of the UN General Assembly on the occasion of its candidacy to the Human Rights Council, the Permanent Mission of Bangladesh pledged that Bangladesh would “intensify its efforts, while framing its national policies and strategies, to uphold the fundamental principles enshrined in the Constitution of Bangladesh as well as those of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international and regional human rights instruments to which it is a party.”

Dear Prime minister, I want to urge you please immediately lift on France’s Doctors without Borders (MSF) and Actions Against Hunger (ACF) and Britain’s Muslim Aid.

On the same time ,I want to remind you closing your border when sectarian violence in Arakan State continues to threaten lives is a contravention of Bangladesh’s international human rights obligations. Your government has a positive obligation to keep your border open to people fleeing threats to their lives and provide them protection.

I want to remind you now is not the time to turn your back, but rather to do the right thing, open your borders, and call for international solidarity in meeting compelling humanitarian needs and respecting human rights.

AUTHOR: William Nicholas Gomes
E-MAIL: [at]


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