The ICJ today condemned the decisions of the governments of Indonesia and Malaysia to turn away and push back boats carrying hundreds of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, including women and children, out to sea.
The ICJ emphasized that the increase in the number of Rohingya arrivals in Indonesia and Malaysia underscores the need to address the root causes that drive these people to set off on these perilous journeys, including the longstanding human rights abuses to which Rohingyas are subjected.
The decision by the two governments to return the boats to sea came after the arrival of about 2,000 people, mostly believed to be Rohingya and Bangladeshi nationals, onto the shores of Malaysia and Indonesia earlier this week.
“This should be a wake-up call to ASEAN that human rights is not an internal affair of one Member State,” said Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Regional Director for Asia and the Pacific.
“Had there been action on the part of ASEAN early on to protect the rights of Rohingyas in Myanmar, this looming humanitarian crisis would not have happened,” he added.
The large majority of Rohingyas have fled Myanmar because of the discrimination and deadly violence they face there as members of a religious minority.
Many of them had no choice but to resort to callous smugglers.
However, a recent crackdown on human trafficking in both Thailand and Malaysia has spooked smugglers who, in order to avoid arrest, have abandoned boatloads adrift at sea instead of taking them ashore.
It is reported that approximately 6000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshi are now on boats adrift in the Andaman Sea in poor and overcrowded conditions.
“The decisions of the Indonesian and Malaysian governments constitute an abject failure of their duty to increase search-and-rescue efforts at sea and to provide humanitarian relief to those in need. Moreover, pushing these people back out to sea is a life-endangering practice and in no way does it provide a safe and effective solution,” said Zarifi.
Under international law, the act of pushing those boats back to the high seas constitutes a collective expulsion and may constitute a violation of the principle of non-refoulement.
Such a practice is also likely to lead to violations of the right to seek and enjoy asylum from persecution, of the right not be subjected to torture and other ill-treatment, and of the right to life.
On 29 May 2015, senior officials and representatives from at least 6 ASEAN member states will be in Thailand to have a “Special Meeting on Irregular Migration in the Indian Ocean”.
“ASEAN member states must ensure that any regional decision taken on this issue will be one that adequately and meaningfully protects the lives of people who embark on those desperate journeys across the Indian Ocean,” added Zarifi.
The ICJ urges ASEAN member states to stop the practice of returning boatloads of asylum-seekers and migrants to the sea and to immediately adopt effective regional measures in line with international human rights standards.
The ICJ also urges ASEAN to strengthen its regional human rights mechanism so that it would be able to effectively address violations of human rights in the region.
Emerlynne Gil, ICJ Senior International Legal Adviser, in Bangkok, email: emerlynne.gil(a)icj.org or mobile: +66 84 092 3575
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