An International Criminal Court prosecutor on Monday wrapped up a six-day trip to Bangladesh and Rohingya refugee camps in the southeast as part of preparations for a potential ICC investigation into alleged crimes of humanity against Rohingya by Myanmar’s military.
Deputy ICC Prosecutor James Stewart left the country after leading a delegation from the court based in The Hague, according to officials with Bangladesh’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The ICC team met with refugees at Rohingya camps over the weekend.
“The ICC team did not hold any formal meeting with us. They wanted to know from us why the Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh in large numbers,” said Dil Mohammad, a leader of the refugees living at camps in the so-called “no-man’s land” near the Konarpara border crossing point along Bangladesh’s frontier with Myanmar.
“They asked me why we left Myanmar and took refuge in Bangladesh. I told them that the torture, killings and persecution forced us to cross the border and enter Bangladesh,” Mohammad told BenarNews.
The ICC team’s visit occurred a month after its top prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said in a statement that she would ask judges for permission to investigate crimes against humanity committed against the stateless Rohingya.
The ICC team arrived in Bangladesh on July 16 to lay the groundwork for an investigation if the Netherlands-based tribunal gave them the green light, Stewart told reporters in Dhaka last week.
In March, another team from the ICC visited Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar district as part of a preliminary examination into a potential case.
The war-crimes court issued a statement last month that it had assigned a three-judge panel to hear Bensouda’s request.
The ICC ruled in September that although Myanmar was not a member of the court, the “crime against humanity of deportation” allegedly committed against the Rohingya was under its jurisdiction.
“The reason is that an element of this crime – the crossing of a border – took place on the territory of a State party,” the ruling said, referring to Bangladesh, which is a member of ICC.
Myanmar, which does not recognize the Rohingya among its official ethnic groups, rejected the ruling, saying ICC had no jurisdiction since it was not among the international court’s 122-member nations.
Stewart’s visit amplified pressure against Myanmar’s military leaders: on the day his team landed in Bangladesh, the United States issued travel bans on Commander-in-Chief Min Aung Hlaing and three other generals for their alleged role in a brutal 2017 crackdown on Rohingya in their home state of Rakhine.
The United States and the United Nations had described the crackdown as “ethnic cleansing,” which, according to a U.N. fact-finding mission in August, included mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya involving the Myanmar military.
The ICC team met Rohingya men and women on Saturday at refugee camps in southeastern Cox’s Bazar and the no-man’s land in Bandarban, along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. They also held talks with Bangladeshi refugee-repatriation authorities, the local police chief and other officials said.
Mohammad Shamsuzzoha, additional commissioner for refugee repatriation and relief, told BenarNews that the ICC team visited different camps in Lambarshia in Ukhia, a sub-district of Cox’s Bazar.
“I think, they came here to see the overall situation at the camps,” Shamsuzzoha told BenarNews, adding that Stewart left Bangladesh on Monday.
However, it was not clear when the other three ICC delegates who accompanied Stewart to Bangladesh were to leave as well.
Before departing for Cox’s Bazar, Stewart told reporters in Dhaka that the ICC was not visiting Bangladesh “to investigate or collect evidence.”
The international prosecutors made the visit to explain the legal process to officials and affected people on how the ICC might investigate reported atrocities, Stewart said.
Shahid Ullah, a Rohingya camp leader, confirmed to BenarNews that the ICC team did not hold formal meetings with the refugees.
“But we appealed to them for justice. We told them that we wanted justice. The military killed us, raped our women and even murdered newborn babies,” he said, referring to Myanmar security forces.