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‘Clear breach of international standards’: Experts debate the ban on Bangladeshis marrying Rohingya

The government claims the prohibition is intended to prevent refugees from using their marriage certificates to obtain Bangladeshi citizenship.

Shoaib Hossain Jewel is a Bangladeshi citizen, aged about 25 years, a Hafiz-e-Quran, and a teacher at a madrasa in Dhaka’s Jatrabari area.

Jewel’s life took an eventful turn when he met Rafiza, an 18-year-old Rohingya woman who, with her family, fled to Bangladesh from the Rakhine State of Myanmar, escaping what the UN called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” in Myanmar.

He fell in love with Rafiza when he met her at his teacher’s home in Singair where she and her family took refuge in order to escape starvation and disease at the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

Jewel decided to marry Rafiza but his dream of marrying her was shattered on the very day he started preparations for the wedding as the district administration deported Rafiza’s family to Kutupalong refugee camp at Cox’s Bazar on September 14.

Jewel was informed by the local police that since 2014 the government had banned marriage between Rohingyas and Bangladeshi nationals.

Then, in quest of finding his beloved, he travelled all the way to Kutupalong Refugee Camp at Cox’s Bazar and traced Rafiza amongst the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees living in the makeshift shelters. Upon finding Rafiza, Jewel married her at a mosque located inside the camp, with the consent of Rafiza’s parents. The marriage was conducted by the imam of the mosque in accordance with Islamic norms and principles.

However, they could not register their marriage and Jewel returned to his native village in Singair, in Manikganj with his newly-wedded wife Rafiza. Upon their return, the police at the Singair Upazila were alerted and the couple ran away and hid in fear of being arrested.

In July of 2014, the government had issued a public order which banned marriage between Bangladeshi citizens and Rohingya refugees from Myanmar. Accordingly, the government had also issued an order prohibiting marriage registrars or kazis from registering any such marriages.

This year the government issued another gazette notification, directing marriage registrars to ensure that both brides and grooms are of Bangladeshi nationality before registering any marriage in “special areas,” namely Cox’s Bazar, Bandarban, Rangamati and Chittagong, and threatened with punitive actions if the kazis were found negligent in this regard.

The government claims that the ban/prohibition is intended to prevent Rohingya refugees from using their marriage certificates to obtain Bangladeshi citizenship and become permanent residents.

A writ petition was filed on December 10 challenging the circular passed by the government on October 25. The petitioner is the father of Shoaib Hossain Jewel. The High Court has heard the writ on December 14, and adjourned the matter until January 7. There is generally no bar against Bangladeshi citizens marrying people from other nationalities.

Human rights violation

Dhaka University International Relations Professor CR Abrar told the Dhaka Tribune that this directive and other similar administrative orders are in conflict with several constitutional provisions and laws of the land.

“The stipulation of securing a prior approval that is solely based on ethnic, racial or nationality consideration is a clear breach of international human rights standards,” he said. “It also appears to be against the spirit of the Constitution of Bangladesh which guarantees human right and freedom of human person under Article 11.”

He added, “In Bangladesh, Muslim marriages are regulated under the Muslim Personal Law (Sharia). From that perspective there is no bar for a Rohingya Muslim to marry an undocumented Myanmar national or Bangladeshi citizen who is also a Muslim and marriage under the Muslim Law (Sharia) is a civil contract requiring no ceremony or special formality.”

Barrister ABM Hamidul Mishbah told the Dhaka Tribune that prohibiting or preventing Jewel from registering his marriage with Rafiza, who is also a Muslim, on the basis of Rafiza’s Rohingya status, constitutes discrimination against Jewel on the ground of race and nationality.

“The concern that Rohingyas are ‘allegedly’ using marriage as a tool to gain citizenship in Bangladesh can be addressed in other ways including incorporating policies or laws to prevent ‘sham marriages’ that were entered into for the purpose of attaining Bangladeshi citizenship by Rohingyas, and on the ground that the parties never intended to be husband and wife, among others,” said Barrister Hamidul.

‘Repatriation will be impossible’

Former law minister Barrister Shafique Ahmed thinks the decision of the marriage restriction is a reasonable order by the government. “If marriage registration happens, then they [Rohingya] might claim citizenship and that might create many problems,” said the former minister. “If the government of Bangladesh allows marriage registration, repatriation will be impossible and the Rohingya people will not be able to return to their home.

However, Barrister ABM Hamidul Mishbah thinks this ban on marriage seemed to have failed to achieve its objective anyway, and has rather curbed basic human rights of Bangladeshi citizens who would wish to get married to a Rohingya citizen for a genuine cause. “This would also create room for law enforcement agencies to arbitrarily use their power against any Bangladeshi citizen like Shoaib, and would therefore constitute another set of illegality and corrupt practices,” Mishbah said. “It is not difficult to obtain fake birth certificates which can be used to apply for NID cards in Bangladesh. We have already seen in various newspapers that Rohingyas have applied for passports using fake documents and then got detected.”

He further suggested that government could rather manoeuvre its own immigration rules to prohibit the Rohingyas access to various government facilities.

This article first appeared on Dhaka Tribune.

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