The International Criminal Court (ICC) is gathering evidence against people suspected of crimes against Rohingya in Myanmar, a senior prosecutor told reporters in Dhaka on Tuesday, after a sister court ruled last month in a genocide case brought against Naypyidaw.
The International Court of Justice’s provisional judgment, which ordered Myanmar to protect Rohingya from genocidal acts, will help the ICC identify and try individuals who made policies and committed alleged crimes against the mainly Muslim and stateless minority group, Phakiso Mochochoko said.
The Office of the Prosecutor at the ICC, which is based in The Hague, hopes to prosecute those who forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to cross into Bangladesh from Myanmar’s Rakhine state in 2016 and 2017, said Mochochoko, who directs the jurisdiction, complementary and cooperation division at the prosecutor’s office.
“Yes, it is three years since the crimes were committed, but justice will be done. It may take a year, it may take two years, it may take three years,” he told a news conference in Bangladesh’s capital. “The beauty of our international criminal court is it is a permanent international institution.”
The ICC investigation and prosecution will continue even if Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh are repatriated to their homes in Myanmar, whose government so far is not cooperating, Mochochoko said. An ICC team arrived in Bangladesh on Feb. 1.
“We are going to work together with the ICJ. We are going to exchange documents,” Mochochoko said, adding, “We realize that we should not duplicate our efforts. We should try by all means to work together.”
In its verdict on Jan. 23, the ICJ ordered Myanmar to protect Rohingya from genocidal acts and refrain from destroying evidence of alleged crimes, as the court ruled in a case brought by The Gambia, a predominantly Muslim nation in West Africa.
“The judgment itself, in terms of findings, that Myanmar should take provisional measures to protect the Rohingya is already a step forward,” Mochochoko said.
‘The question for us’
The ICC prosecutes individuals suspected of committing crimes against humanity. The ICJ, on the other hand, settles disputes between nations.
“The ICJ has already acknowledged that crimes have been committed against the Rohingya. The question for us is who can be held individually criminally responsible,” he said.
The highly confidential investigation is taking place in Bangladesh because it is a party to the Rome Statute, which established the ICC to try those who perpetrate crimes against humanity, while Myanmar is not, Mochochoko said. The ICC will not have jurisdiction in cases involving Rohingya who remained in Myanmar.
In November 2019, the ICC authorized the investigation into alleged crimes against humanity perpetrated against the Rohingya since late 2016.
“[T]here exists a reasonable basis to believe widespread and/or systematic acts of violence may have been committed that could qualify as the crimes against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion against the Rohingya population,” the court said in a news release at the time.
Mochochoko said the investigation would cover the period dating to October 2016.
“We cannot go back beyond that,” he said.
That date fell before the mass exodus of about 740,000 Rohingya from Myanmar’s Rakhine state, beginning in August 2017. They were driven out of their homes after Myanmar’s military launched a brutal offensive, which followed deadly attacks by a Rohingya rebel group on government security posts that month.
The Rohingya who crossed the border into southeastern Bangladesh joined thousands of other Rohingya who had previously fled Myanmar, bringing the number of refugees in camps in and around Cox’s Bazar district to more than 1 million.
The ICC investigation also will look into alleged acts of violence committed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, the insurgent group blamed for the attack that provoked the military offensive, Mochochoko said.
He promised that the investigation, which has begun, would be an “independent, impartial, objective and fair process.”
“It will entail … the investigators coming here to Bangladesh, in particular going to the camps, talking to the victims and establishing witnesses, getting their stories and finding out exactly what happened to them,” he said.
He said he hoped to be able to work with Myanmar officials.
“We are not receiving any cooperation from the government of Myanmar, unfortunately. We have been making efforts to talk to them, to reach out to them, but so far we have not been able to get any assistance or cooperation from them,” he said.
He said investigators were trying to persuade officials to cooperate.
“The fact of the matter, however, is that this investigation will proceed to the logical conclusion with or without the cooperation of the government of Myanmar,” Mochochoko said.
In Cox’s Bazar, a Rohingya leader and an official working with the minority group said they were pleased by Mochochoko’s comments.
“The Myanmar military and the Moghs have committed the crimes. They must face trial,” Rafiq Ullah, a Rohingya leader at Kutupalong camp, told BenarNews, referring to Buddhists in Rakhine state.
“[T]he ICC and the ICJ are the forums that can solve our problem,” he said.
Meanwhile, Touhid Hossain, the leader of the Bangladeshi delegation negotiating repatriation with Myanmar, said the ICC and ICJ moves could help the process.
“Myanmar would not agree to take the Rohingya back unless there was huge pressure from the ICC and the ICJ. The ICC and the ICJ moves have opened an opportunity for Bangladesh to send the Rohingya back to their homeland,” Hossain, a former Bangladesh foreign secretary, told BenarNews.
“Bangladesh should cooperate with the ICC and ICJ and continue the bilateral mechanism for the repatriation of refugees,” he said.