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Prominent Rohingya leader shot dead in Bangladesh refugee camp


A prominent Rohingya leader widely praised for his devotion to serving his community has been shot dead at close range at a refugee camp in Bangladesh, prompting calls for an urgent investigation.

Mohib Ullah, chair of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, was killed by gunmen on Wednesday evening as he spoke to other community leaders outside his office, police said.

He was a leading advocate for the Rohingya, a minority that has long been persecuted in Myanmar and was subjected to a brutal military crackdown in 2017, when hundreds of thousands of people were forced to seek refuge across the border in Bangladesh.

As a refugee living in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, Mohib Ullah compiled crucial records of alleged military violence, meticulously collecting the names of thousands of Rohingya killed during its assaults. He spoke internationally about Rohingya rights, travelling to the White House to meet the former president Donald Trump and speaking at the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2019.

In his address to UNHRC, he said: “Imagine you have no identity, no ethnicity, no country. Nobody wants you. How would you feel? This is how we feel today as Rohingya.

“For decades we faced a systematic genocide in Myanmar. They took our citizenship. They took our land. They destroyed our mosques. No travel, no higher education, no healthcare, no jobs … We are not stateless. Stop calling us that. We have a state. It is Myanmar.”

Nur Khan, a Bangladeshi human rights activist, said Mohib Ullah had “spent every second of his days” serving his community. “Mohib Ullah was this small human being with a calm demeanour, but the depth of knowledge, openness and bravery he had was unparalleled,” he said. “It’ll be very difficult to fill the vacuum in the leadership. It’ll be very difficult to find a match to the wisdom and charisma that Mohib Ullah had.”

No one has claimed responsibility for the murder, though some have blamed the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an armed group present in the camp. Violence is a growing concern in Cox’s Bazaar, where different groups are vying for control of the settlement, one of the world’s largest refugee camps. The groups have been accused of committing murders and abductions.

Mohib Ullah, who had criticised the violence in the camps, had been threatened by various groups, including ARSA, his friends said.

Rafiqul Islam, deputy police chief in Cox’s Bazar, said witnesses had reported between four and five assailants. Police had increased their security presence in the camps, he added.

Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya rights activist, said that agencies had been warned many times that Mohib Ullah was not safe. If the international community and the Bangladeshi authorities did not take action, she said, “the simple message that the rest of the community will be receiving is that our lives don’t matter”.

It was a sign of misplaced priorities among agencies in Bangladesh that “human rights defenders are not even afforded the simple basic protection for the work they do”, she said. “Let’s face it, the international community are not going to do that work … We have to do that work ourselves – so make it safe for us. UNHCR and the Bangladesh authorities have been securitising the camp, but not in a way that empowers people, not in a way that keeps people safe.”

She pointed to the barbed wire surrounding the settlements, an apparent security measure. It had failed to prevent Mohib Ullah’s death, or to ensure safety for women who were too afraid to go to the toilet at night, but had become “a symbol of division between the rest of Bangladesh, where people are treated like people, and refugees, who are treated as subhuman”.

Saad Hammadi, Amnesty International’s South Asia campaigner, said Mohib Ullah’s killing would send “a chilling effect across the entire community”. “The onus is now on the Bangladeshi authorities to expedite an investigation into his murder and bring all those suspected of criminal responsibility to justice in fair trials,” he said.

Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights, said Mohib Ullah’s death was “a tremendous loss for Myanmar, the Rohingya people, and the human rights movement more broadly”.

“Mohib Ullah was committed to truth, justice, and human rights. He had been facing serious and sustained threats in Bangladesh and needed protection. The government of Bangladesh must immediately investigate anyone who may have been involved in this heinous crime and ensure justice.”