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Remembering Mohibullah, a Tireless Advocate for the Rohingya

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Remembering Mohibullah, a Tireless Advocate for the Rohingya

“There are tens of thousands to whom he represented hope in a better future, and who will be mourning him today.”

Remembering Mohibullah, a Tireless Advocate for the Rohingya

Rohingya refugee children walking through the Unchiprang camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

Credit: European Union

Mohibullah was one of the most important leaders of the Rohingya, and the most important figure living in the refugee camps in Bangladesh. We called him “comrade” and “peace father.” To us, the authors of this article, he was a father, father-in-law, and close colleague. He was assassinated in the refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar on September 29, 2021. Today, we honor his legacy.

I, Nowkhim Mohamed, honor his legacy as my mentor and closest colleague. We worked in tandem every day, documenting evidence of the atrocities committed in Myanmar against our people to share with the international courts; collecting thousands of signatures in support of initiatives promoting justice and the human rights of the Rohingya; and writing letters and statements demanding a place in international conversations about our future. Mohibullah was tireless, unstoppable; his energy pushed and inspired me to fight alongside him. Even now, I continue that fight.

And I, Hashmat Ullah, honor his legacy as my father. His favorite saying was “be kind,” and this is exactly how he choose to live his life. My father has always been a source of encouragement to me. When I was very young, each night he would take a book from our small home library and read aloud to me. Looking back, I realize that every step of the way, through my childhood and adolescence, my father has been there for me whenever I needed him. At night when I sat down with him, he would ask me about the history of our country and the Rohingya people. He taught me the history of our motherland and encouraged me to keep learning about our people and traditions. He was making sure we didn’t lose our culture. Now, as his son, I am trying to live out his words.

On the anniversary of Mohib’s death, we want to look back and tell the story of his journey to becoming our leader. Since 2000, the Myanmar government has tried to make the Rohingya people work without pay. When a government person would change their duty station, for example, they would demand that local Rohingya people carry all their possessions – usually, 50-70 kilograms worth – to the next station, day and night, without rest. Mohib would constantly agitate about this. He would write letters about it to the United Nations and to visiting country delegations. He would try to meet with diplomats when they came to Myanmar.

From those days, when he worked with a local NGO, we learnt of his talent in mobilizing people. As part of his job, he would go from village to village and talk to people, connect with them, and build his network. People saw that he was a good person. They shared their problems with him, and he would try to solve those problems. Day by day, he gained popularity with the Rohingya people.

In 2010, Mohib became the chairman of the local branch of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), a military-linked political party in Myanmar – through which he thought he could make some of his vision become a reality. In 2012, as he familiarized himself with the internet, he began to write posts for about the atrocities committed against our people, and the need for justice. In November 2014, he met with U.S. President Barack Obama when he visited Myanmar and expressed concern about the country’s treatment of ethnic minorities.

In October 2016, when the violence against the Rohingya intensified, Mohib collected video footage of the carnage, including murdered people and burning houses, to try to show evidence of this genocide to the world. He also tried to calm and inspire people, giving motivational speeches and offering emotional support and advice about how to stay mentally strong. It is then that people began calling him “peace father.”

In 2017, when the Myanmar military’s mass killings and burning of our villages forced more than 700,000 of us into Bangladesh, Mohib arrived and immediately established the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights (ARSPH). Everything he did for us from then on is well documented.

Besides us, who were closest to Mohib, there are hundreds of people whose lives he touched personally, and to whom his death left a hole that cannot be filled. There are thousands who met him and were inspired by his energy and vision. And there are tens of thousands to whom he represented hope for a better future, and who will be mourning him today.

The enormity of Mohib’s personality and vision is the reason he was targeted. He was threatened constantly, including on the day he was killed. His assassination was devastating, but it did not come as a surprise – to us, or to him. “If I die, it’s okay,” he used to say. “I will give my life for my community.” Still, he tried to stay with us longer. He enlisted friends and neighbors as guards for his shelters, and sometimes slept at the shelters of others when he felt he was in particular danger. Mohib had applied for a grant to be able to pay those acting as his security guards just a few days before his assassination. It was approved the day after he was killed. In the end, he was murdered not in his house or that of a colleague, but in his office, as he was speaking to community members – something he was never going to stop doing, even in the face of death.

Our prominent leader may have died, but his ambitions are still alive. His existence was extinguished by the extremists – but the extremists can never extinguish his dream. It is now on us to fulfill his vision for our community.

“If I die, It’s okay. I will give my life for my community.” We must remember his words forever. We must remember his spirit, and we must find a way to let that spirit live on – for the sake of all our Rohingya people.

Guest Author

Hashmat Ullah

Hashmat Ullah is the eldest son of Mohibullah and is currently a student in Ontario, Canada. He lives there after being resettled with his mother and his siblings, who will grow up without their father.

Guest Author

Mohammad Nowkhim

Mohammed Nowkhim is a Rohingya youth activist, human rights defender, human rights documenter, and an Executive Member and Spokesperson of of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights. He worked closely with Mohib on gathering evidence of atrocities committed in Myanmar to share with the international courts. He is also Mohib’s son-in-law.