A Tribute to Mohibullah

Allah has made as refugees. We now shelter in another country, as guests. We must work hard to get our rights back, and return to our country. We need to do this work for ourselves – we cannot wait for others to do it for us. 

Mohibullah, March 2021

By VAI Executive Director Eva Buzo: On 29 September 2021 our friend and partner, Mohib Ullah was assassinated in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. I had known Mohib since he first rose to prominence as a Rohingya leader in 2018. The Rohingya community have always been intentionally excluded from all decision-making that affects their future. Stakeholders would state ad nauseum “well since they don’t have a leader, we can’t consult them”. When Mohib and ARSPH started turning heads, it gave me a point of hope that they would become this force that could not be excluded.

I traveled with Mohib to Geneva in 2019 in the first overseas visit for any Rohingya affected by the 2017 violence. I sat in every meeting with Mohib while he talked about what the community wanted and where he saw their future. It was only in the last round table discussion where I saw tears in Mohib’s eyes that it struck me how difficult it had been for him to do this. He had remained composed, diplomatic and good-humored while having to beg for the life of his community.

When I lived in Bangladesh, before VAI, while having no official relationship with ARSPH and Mohib, I met regularly with him and the ARSPH team to assist them with their accountability efforts. I was asked to leave Cox’s Bazar when I appeared in support of ARSPH and Shanti Mohila at the 2019 Genocide Day ceremony. I remember sitting with Mohib in the days after the ceremony as the media storm around the ceremony, attended by over 200,000 Rohingya, grew where he was grinning and said, “I think we’re both in trouble.” It reminds me of US Congressman John Lewis’ words, “Never be afraid to make some noise and get in good trouble, necessary trouble.” Mohib was never afraid to lead the way into good trouble, necessary trouble which all too fatefully led to his murder.

The reason we started VAI is because Mohib and ARSPH demonstrated there was a huge chasm between groups that were self-organised and had something to say, and the accountability mechanisms that professed to work for them. ARSPH was our first member, and our first project as we started working with them on the ARSPH report. The ARSPH report continues to be the cornerstone of investigation efforts of the international accountability mechanisms.

While the grief of Mohib’s murder will stay with us, at the end of the road the place I land is just how lucky we are to have people in our lives whom we know and love, and who change us. We would not have started VAI without Mohib. We would not have worked countless unpaid days, weeks and months if we did not believe in what Mohib stood for. Amongst the darkness of what the Rohingya community has experienced and continues to experience, I am so grateful Mohib gave us someone to put our faith in.

And it doesn’t end here. Mohib showed us how it starts, but there is a new chapter and VAI will be there for ARSPH and other victim groups for whatever they are planning because whatever it is, we know it’s going to be great.