From Empathy to Enmity: Navigating Escalating Resentment and Violence in Bangladesh’s Rohingya Refugee Camps – A Call for UN Peacekeepers

Armed Groups within Rohingya Refugee Camps

Human Rights Watch documented 26 instances of violence, including murder, kidnapping, rape, and forced marriage, from January through April 2023 against the Rohingyas by active armed groups within the camps.[1] Three incidents led to arrests, and in another instance, the suspect was freed after bribing the police.[2] The total number of incidents is likely higher as victims face numerous barriers to police and legal assistance.[3] In such instances, the UN has turned to Bangladeshi authorities to assume responsibility, urging them to improve the security within the camps.[4] However, continued violence and limited success in apprehending perpetrators underscore limitations of relying solely on Bangladeshi government for the safety of Rohingyas.


Relationship with the Local Community

Since 2017, over 500,000 Rohingyas fled to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, escaping assaults orchestrated by Myanmar[5]—and currently making up one third of the local population.[6] While the refugees were initially welcomed, the locals grew more resentful as crimes increased due to drug trafficking, facilitated by corruption by police and politicians,[7] and the two groups started competing over shared resources, leading to reduced wages.[8] Given Bangladesh’s high poverty rate,[9] reduced wages, such as a decline in daily earnings for agricultural labor,[10] led locals to accuse the refugees of destabilizing the country.[11]

Escalating tension is concerning as economic threats shape attitudes,[12] often worsened by proximity.[13] Since both the locals and refugees live in densely populated communities, minor disputes are likely to escalate into dangerous situations, fostering a breeding ground for violence.


Implementation of UN Peacekeepers

One potential solution is deploying UN Peacekeepers as observers and military forces within the camps. UN Peacekeeping, guided by consent, impartiality, and non-use of force except in self-defense, [14] has been used in areas with large refugee populations facing insecurity and instability.[15] In such intra-state conflicts, the mission of UN peacekeepers includes “protection of civilians, human rights, peacebuilding activities, and supporting humanitarian access.”[16]

In 2017, South Sudan saw a large influx of refugees from the neighboring country of Sudan. Nearly 140,000 refugees were forced to relocate to a small town with a population of 20,000, called Bunj.[17] Fights over resources between ethnic groups led to significant clashes. As a result, 150 UN Peacekeepers were deployed in the area.[18] This impartial intervention helped build confidence and provide security to the refugees and the people of Bunj.”[19]

Given Bangladesh’s struggle to maintain stability in the camps, deploying UN Peacekeepers to Cox’s Bazar, as in South Sudan, can create a secure environment for Rohingyas and locals. Acting as impartial observers with self-defense rights, UN Peacekeepers can prevent conflicts, mediate disputes, and provide international oversight. Past examples, like the Rwandan Genocide, emphasize that violence is less likely in the presence of international observers. [20]


As an “intra-state conflict,” consent will be focused solely on the host-state.[21] To respect nations’ sovereignty, the UN would require Bangladesh to consent to UN Peacekeeping, as operations that did not receive consent or forced consent resulted in a dramatic failure.[22] Obtaining consent may pose a challenge for two reasons.

If the Bangladeshi government believes the Rohingyas are the source of increased violence, like the sentiments of locals,[23] Rohingyas are likely to be viewed as the opposing party, rather than ones that need saving. Difficulties with obtaining consent have emerged in the past when UN attempted to protect civilians identified by the state as the “opposition.”[24] Additionally, efforts to investigate human rights violations committed by state actors, such as the Armed Police Battalion, a specialized combat unit within the Bangladesh police force,[25] are likely to create hostility.[26] This unit has been implicated in the arbitrary detention and torture of Rohingyas, revealing a systematic demand for corrupt payments.[27]

Secondly, UN Peacekeepers will bring increased attention to the area and the Bangladeshi government has been unwilling to openly address the crisis as they do not want to admit that Rohingyas will not be repatriating any time soon.[28] Allowing UN Peacekeepers into the camps may inadvertently signal a greater degree of permanency for the refugees as it suggests a more formalized and long-term intervention. Conversely, the Bangladeshi government has openly resisted any efforts of permanency, like having “temporary learning centers,” rather than schools, and “facilitators,” rather than teachers.[29]


The UN has shifted from neutrality to impartiality to highlight that Peacekeepers must approach each conflict by addressing the actions of all parties in violations of international principles.[30] Peacekeepers must take measures against spoilers, described as “individuals or parties who believe that the peace process threatens their power and interests, and will therefore work to undermine it.”[31] While UN Principles of Peacekeeping do not mention whether state actors fall under this definition, they highlight that “a mission should not shy away from a rigorous application of the principle of impartiality for fear of misinterpretation or retaliation.”[32] If spoilers include recognition of the acts of state actors, which they likely do, the Peacekeepers will be beneficial in monitoring behaviors of corrupt Bangladeshi officials to ensure the safety of refugees, regardless of retaliation.

Non-use of force except in self-defense and defense of the mandate.

While peacekeeping operations are not designed as enforcement tools, it is widely accepted that Peacekeepers may employ force at the tactical level when acting in self-defense and in defense of their mandate.[33] Force should always be the last resort and narrow self-defense remains the norm, even if peace operations include protecting the peace process.[34] The narrow definition includes “peacekeeper using force in defense of his own life, his “comrades and any person entrusted in [his] care, as well as defending [his] post, convoy, vehicle.”[35] While there have been pressures to expand this definition to protect civilians under attack,[36] it will likely be essential to stick to a narrow interpretation of self-defense to receive the consent and support of the Bangladeshi government.

  1. Bangladesh: Spiraling Violence Against Rohingya Refugees, Human Rights Watch (Jul. 13, 2023),

  2. Id.

  3. Id.

  4. Press Release, United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), UNHCR Deplores Violent Attack in Rohingya Refugee Camp, (Oct. 22, 2021).

  5. Anas Ansar & Abu Faisal Md. Khaled, From Solidarity to Resistance: Host communities’ Evolving Response to the Rohingya Refugees in Bangladesh, J.L. of Int’l Humanitarian Action, Jul. 9, 2021, at 1, 1.

  6. Id. at 3.

  7. United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Conflict Dynamics between Bangladeshi Host Communities and Rohingya Refugees (Apr. 2023), available at

  8. Ansar & Faisal, supra note 5, at 6.

  9. Id. at. 3.

  10. Id. at 6.

  11. Id. at 11.

  12. Leo Driedger & Shiva Halli, Immigrant Canada 223 (1999).

  13. Id. at 213.

  14. Principles of Peacekeeping,

  15. Daniel Dickinson, Confidence-boosting role played by UN peacekeepers in South Sudan refugee settlements on U.N. Mission in South Sudan (Jun. 12, 2017),

  16. Julie Gregory & Lisa Sharland, Host-Country Consent in UN Peacekeeping 12 (2023),

  17. Dickinson, supra note 15.

  18. Id.

  19. Id.

  20. Id.

  21. Gregory, supra note 16.

  22. Jaume Saura, Lawful Peacekeeping: Applicability of International Humanitarian Law to United Nations Peacekeeping Operations, 58 Hastings L.J. 479, 482 (2007).

  23. USIP, supra note 7, at 10.

  24. Gregory, supra note 16.

  25. Bangladesh: Ensure Accountability for Police Corruption, Torture of Rohingya Refugees, U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (“UNOCHA”) (Aug. 19, 2023),,payments%20that%20amount%20to%20extortion.

  26. Gregory, supra note 16.

  27. UNOCHA, supra note 25.

  28. Bangladesh is Not My County, Human Rights Watch (Aug. 5, 2018),

  29. Id.

  30. Nigel D. White, Peacekeeping and International Law, The Oxford Handbook of United Nations Peacekeeping Operations 51 (2014).

  31. U.N. Peacekeeping Operations, supra note 14, at 43.

  32. Id. at 33.

  33. Id. at 34.

  34. White, supra note 30, at 51.

  35. Id.

  36. Id. at 52.