On September 9, 2019, it was reported that Cox’s Bazar International University (CBIU) had suspended student Rahima Akter on the basis of her ethnic identity.
Akter is a first-year law student at CBIU and a member of the Rohingya ethnic group. For many years, Rohingya have left their native Myanmar, where they face intense persecution, and have resettled in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh face a number of restrictions, including a ban on enrolling in formal education institutions. Akter was born in Bangladesh, to parents who had resettled there after fleeing Myanmar in 1992.
Sources indicate that Akter hid her identity as Rohingya to enrol at CBIU. In September 2019, a video featuring Akter discussing her Rohingya identity and her desire to pursue an education in human rights reportedly went viral, including on CBIU’s campus. In response, some students reportedly started a campaign calling for Akter to be sent back to Myanmar.
On September 9, 2019, following media coverage of the students’ calls for her expulsion, CBIU opened an investigation into Akter. CBIU officials have suspended Akter from all academic activities pending an investigation.
Scholars at Risk is concerned about the suspension of a student on the basis of ethnic identity or refugee status. Such actions erode fundamental human rights including the right to education and academic freedom, in violation of human rights instruments including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, to which Bangladesh is a party. University authorities have an obligation to refrain from arbitrary suspensions and similar actions and to support equitable access. In addition to the harm to the immediate victim, such incidents undermine the right to education, academic freedom, and undermine democratic society generally.