In 2017, Myanmar’s military launched a brutal crackdown on Rohingya communities in Rakhine state, forcing hundreds of thousands of people to flee. Myanmar is a Buddhist-majority nation.
Now, nearly 1 million Rohingya live in the world’s largest refugee settlement in southern Bangladesh, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. It was there, in the sprawling encampments near Cox’s Bazar, where Ullah was gunned down Wednesday night, local media reported.
The teacher turned activist was the target of numerous death threats in recent years for his work, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch. In 2019, he briefly met with President Donald Trump at the White House as part of a delegation of victims of religious conflict around the world.
First, Ullah helped U.N. officials and other investigators compile testimonies from survivors of the military crackdown — part of a catalogue of alleged crimes some Rohingya hope will bring them justice in an international court.
He then led peaceful protests in Bangladesh against a plan to repatriate Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, and spoke at a rally of hundreds of thousands of people on the second anniversary of the start of the military campaign.
An international independent fact-finding mission found in 2019 that Rohingya communities inside Myanmar “face systematic persecution and live under the threat of genocide.”
“The threat of genocide continues for the remaining Rohingya,” said Marzuki Darusman, the mission’s chair. The report was presented to the U.N. Human Rights Council.
Ullah “was a vital voice for the community of Rohingya who had already suffered unimaginable loss and pain when they arrived as refugees in Bangladesh,” HRW’s South Asia director, Meenakshi Ganguly, said in a statement. “His killing is a stark demonstration of the risks faced by those in the camps who speak up for freedom and against violence.”
The settlements at Cox’s Bazar, a modest fishing town with a long, sandy beachfront, have been plagued by growing violence and lawlessness. Armed men stalk the camps, kidnapping critics and warning women against breaking conservative Islamic norms, Reuters reported.
“If I die, I’m fine. I will give my life,” Reuters quoted Ullah as saying in 2019. But he continued his work as head of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights.
“Bangladesh authorities should urgently investigate Mohibullah’s killing along with other attacks on Rohingya activists in the camps,” Ganguly said.