Despite repeated warnings from international humanitarian and human rights organizations that the situation in Rakhine State remains unsafe for the return of Rohingya refugees, implementation of a repatriation agreement between Bangladesh and Myanmar is set to begin on 23 January. Officials held a meeting from 15-16 January and agreed on the return of 1,500 refugees per week to Myanmar, with the aim of increasing that number following a review in April. According to the Myanmar authorities, several “transit camps” are already under construction in preparation for the possible return of up to 750,000 Rohingya refugees.
The UN Refugee Agency is not a party to the repatriation agreement and refugee advocates have noted that it may violate the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol. Non-refoulement is a fundamental principle of international law and prohibits the involuntary return of persons who may be persecuted for their race, religion or ethnicity.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar authorities continue to deny access to northern Rakhine State for most humanitarian organizations, independent media, as well as the Human Rights Council-mandated Fact-Finding Mission and the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar. The government has not expressed any intention to repeal discriminatory laws and policies that continue to deny the Rohingya their fundamental human rights. Nor has it held senior military officers responsible for the wave of atrocities across Rakhine State accountable for their actions.
As more than 354 Rohingya villages were destroyed during the recent “clearance operations” by the security forces, there is a legitimate fear that returnees will be indefinitely confined and segregated in the “transit camps.” Having already failed to uphold its responsibility to protect the Rohingya, the UN Security Council must insist that repatriation occur in a manner that is consistent with international law, and demand that all relevant UN agencies and representatives be given unfettered access to Rakhine State.
At least 95 people have been killed in Nigeria’s Benue and Taraba states since 31 December as a result of inter-communal violence between semi-nomadic herdsmen and local farmers. According to the Benue State Emergency Management Agency, an estimated 80,000 people have been displaced by the fighting. In an attempt to decrease friction and end a deadly cycle of reprisal killings, several state governments have recently implemented cattle grazing bans. However, unless policies to support both farmers and herders are implemented – including the creation of grazing reserves – conflict is likely to continue.
Recurring violence in Nigeria’s “Middle Belt” region is often rooted in historical grievances over land and resource allocation. These disputes have been exacerbated by growing desertification in the north of Nigeria, which has driven many herdsmen – mainly from the Fulani ethnic group, who are Muslims – southward into areas traditionally farmed by settled communities that are predominately Christian. The competition for scarce resources has resulted in an increasing number of deadly clashes in recent years and also threatens to exacerbate religious and ethnic tensions. According to International Crisis Group, since 2011 an average of 2,000 people have been killed per year in fighting between herders and settled farming communities in central and southern Nigeria.
Utilizing the ECOWAS Early Warning System, the Nigerian government should work with local civil society to help identify, monitor and defuse inter-communal conflicts and ameliorate long-standing grievances between the Fulani and settled communities. The government should also intensify efforts to mitigate the effects of climate change, including by accelerating regional initiatives aimed at restoring environments affected by drought and desertification.
Deadly clashes between armed groups in the Paoua region of northwestern Central African Republic (CAR) have resulted in massive civilian displacement since December, with more than 13,000 people fleeing to neighboring Chad and an estimated 60,000 people being internally displaced. Initial fighting erupted on 27 December between members of the Revolution and Justice (RJ) armed group and the Movement for the Liberation of the Central African Republic People (MNLC). Both groups have engaged in indiscriminate attacks on civilians and the burning and looting of villages.
Despite the deployment of reinforcements from the UN peacekeeping mission in CAR (MINUSCA), armed clashes between RJ and MNLC continue and the security situation remains precarious. The surge of displaced civilians into the town of Paoua – more than doubling the population – has created an urgent need for life-saving medical care, safe drinking water and food for at least 100,000 people.
As one of the few regions previously unaffected by large-scale fighting between predatory armed groups, the situation in Paoua highlights the deteriorating security situation in CAR. As of mid-January more than 545,000 Central Africans have fled into neighboring countries, while almost 700,000 remain internally displaced. This constitutes the highest displacement number recorded in CAR since the conflict first intensified during 2013.
It is imperative that MINUSCA be provided with the resources necessary to protect civilians from growing violence between armed groups. The additional 900 peacekeepers approved by the UN Security Council during November must be urgently deployed to CAR.