With popular leader killed, Rohingya in Bangladesh left in leadership crisis

Ardent Rohingya rights activist Md. Mohibullah honored by fellow community as unparalleled leader.

COX’S BAZAR, Bangladesh (AA) – The brutal murder of a popular Rohingya leader, who advocated for the persecuted people at local and global platforms since their August 2017 exodus, has left more than a million stateless people in Bangladesh’s refugee camps in a major crisis of leadership.

“Mohibullah was our unique leader who lived with us and gained a massive popularity for his untiring struggles for our rights and dignity,” Maolana Azimullah, a Rohingya teacher at an Islamic seminary (madrasah), told Anadolu Agency.

Md. Mohibullah, 46, was the chairman of a Rohingya rights body, the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, based in the southern district of Cox’s Bazar. He was gunned down by unidentified killers on Sep. 29, 2021, at his camp office.

Since the exodus of the persecuted ethnic group into Bangladesh following a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, Mohibullah had been campaigning for the peaceful and dignified repatriation of his community to their home country.

At least 750,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled into Bangladesh since Aug. 25, 2017, from military operations in Rakhine State, pushing their total number in the South Asian nation to 1.2 million.

Situated in Cox’s Bazar, the sprawling camps constitute one of the world’s largest refugee settlements, with minority Rohingya Muslims living in difficult conditions as stateless people without refugee status.

On humanitarian grounds, Bangladeshi authorities later permitted Rohingya children to receive primary-level education at a limited number of learning centers in 34 camps under Myanmar’s curriculum.

In such a critical situation, frustration has swelled among the Rohingya as the political crisis has escalated in Buddhist-majority Myanmar after a Feb. 1, 2021, military coup, stoking the uncertainty of repatriation.

– Mohibullah kept hope alive

Amid the poor conditions of the homeless Rohingya in Bangladesh, Mohibullah kept hope for repatriation alive through his local and international efforts.

To ensure justice for his community, Mohibullah compiled crucial records of alleged military violence in Rakhine State that the UN has marked as offenses with genocidal intent.

Through hard work, Mohibullah was reportedly able to list thousands of Rohingya, allegedly killed by the Myanmar army.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed while more than 34,000 were thrown into fires, over 114,000 beaten and as many as 18,000 Rohingya women and girls raped, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

Fluent in English, Mohibullah reached then-US President Donald Trump from the camps in Bangladesh and also addressed the UN Human Rights Council (UNHRC) in 2019, focusing on justice for the Rohingya.

He aimed to speak to the conscience of the international community with his words at the UNHCR: “Imagine you have no identity, no ethnicity, no country, nobody wants you. How would you feel? This is how we feel today as Rohingya.”

Mohammad Solim, a young Rohingya teacher at one of the camp-based child learning centers, told Anadolu Agency that his people dreamt of a better future through peaceful and dignified repatriation to their homes in Rakhine State and that Mohibullah always encouraged them against falling into despair.

“Whenever we found him representing us at different platforms and advocating for our rights and dignity, we felt better despite our perilous conditions. His murder has shocked us as we don’t see anyone like him,” Solim added.

– Rohingya determined to fulfill Mohibullah’s dream

Commemorating Mohibullah as their unparalleled leader, another young Rohingya man at Kutupalang camp, Mobarak Ali, told Anadolu Agency that the murder of Mohibullah would lead to a leadership crisis for the community, but that they were determined to fulfill the dream of their late leader.

“He (Mohibullah) was against any terrorist activities and he advocated for our peaceful and dignified return to our motherland (Rakhine State),” Ali said, adding that they would follow Mohibullah’s policy.

Ali, who was a level-10 student during the 2017 exodus, added: “We will work to educate our children so that after returning to our home country in the near future, they can continue their education as also encouraged by Mohibullah.”

Also speaking to Anadolu Agency, Bangladeshi rights activist Nur Khan Liton said the Rohingya would not easily recover from the vacuum left by the killing of Mohibullah.

“But, I hope world leaders perform their due role to compel Myanmar to create a conducive environment in Rakhine State for the immediate, safe, and dignified return of Rohingya for the greater interest and peace of the entire region,” added Liton, who is also the chief advisor of a local rights watchdog, Human Rights Support Society.

Mohibullah spoke to Anadolu Agency several times in his lifetime over the phone giving voice to his dream of seeing a developed and prosperous Myanmar with Rohingya as its citizens.

He would often profess his belief in peaceful co-existence and joint efforts for the development of his country, Myanmar.


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