International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutors will visit refugee camps in Bangladesh later this week as part of an examination into a mass exodus of Rohingya from Myanmar that began in August 2017, Bangladeshi officials said Wednesday.
The ICC team was due to arrive on Friday in Cox’s Bazar – the southeastern district that hosts most of the Rohingya camps – and stay until March 12, a police official said.
“They will hold meetings with the Rohingya refugees. We have been asked to ensure their security,” Md Iqbal Hossain, the additional superintendent of police in the district, told BenarNews.
The purpose of the visit was a preliminary examination and not an investigation, the ICC’s Office of the Prosecutor said Wednesday in a statement emailed to BenarNews, adding that such visits were standard practice.
“[T]he delegation will not engage in any evidence collection in relation to alleged crimes,” the statement said. “The independent and impartial preliminary examination of the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar is on-going and following its normal course.”
The team will conduct its examination less than a week after the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) unanimously adopted a resolution to pursue legal recourse through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to seek accountability and justice for large-scale human rights violations committed against Rohingya in Myanmar.
The ICJ differs from the International Criminal Court in that it settles disputes between nations. The ICC, on the other hand, prosecutes individuals suspected of committing crimes against humanity.
On Wednesday, Agence France-Presse reported that the ICC team was already in Bangladesh.
Last week, a Bangladesh official told the U.N. Security Council that the country did not have the capacity to accept additional Rohingya refugees.
“I regret to inform the council that Bangladesh would no longer be in a position to accommodate more people from Myanmar,” Bangladeshi Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque said, according to an official transcript of the Feb. 28 meeting at the United Nations in New York.
‘Court may exercise jurisdiction’
The ICC, which is based in The Hague, Netherlands, determined last year that it could prosecute alleged crimes against Rohingya who fled from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, starting in August 2017.
More than 700,000 Rohingya escaped and sought shelter in refugee camps in and around Cox’s Bazar, amid a Myanmar military crackdown that followed deadly attacks on police and army outposts by a Rohingya insurgent group.
On Sept. 6, 2018, ICC issued a decision confirming that the “court may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh, as well as potentially other crimes,” it stated in its annual report released in December.
Twelve days after the decision, the prosecutor announced the start of a preliminary examination into the “alleged deportation of Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.”
“In this context, the preliminary examination takes into account a number of alleged coercive acts which may have resulted in the forced displacement of the Rohingya people, including depravation of fundamental rights, killing, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, destruction and looting,” stated the Report on Preliminary Examination Activities 2018 released on Dec. 5.
Meanwhile in Bangladesh, lawyer Ajmalul Hossain, a senior advocate at the country’s Supreme Court, said the prosecution team’s visit and the OIC resolution should increase pressure on Myanmar.
“Myanmar is not a party to the ICC. But should the international community allow genocide and crimes against humanity in a country not party to the ICC?” he said. “If the international bodies cannot try a country for genocide and crimes against humanity, then it will encourage countries to not be party to the ICC.”
In its annual report, ICC addressed the jurisdiction issue.
“[W]hile Myanmar is not a state party to the statute and has not lodged a declaration … accepting the jurisdiction of the court, the chamber held that the court has jurisdiction over alleged crimes occurring in part of Bangladesh, provided that such allegations are established to the required threshold,” the report stated.
Meeting in Abu Dhabi on Monday, the OIC recommended taking legal steps for establishing legal rights for the stateless Rohingya, the Bangladesh foreign ministry said in a statement.
“The resolution to pursue a legal recourse through the ICJ came after a long series of negotiations to seek accountability for crimes committed against humanity and gross violation of human rights in the case of the Rohingyas in Myanmar,” the ministry said.
The OIC recommended that the legal steps should be based on principles of international law – specifically the Genocide Convention and other Human Rights and Humanitarian Law principles – the ministry said.
The unanimous measure set a precedent for the OIC in pursuing the legal path to justice to address alleged crimes committed against humanity and for establishing the legal rights of the Rohingya population to their rightful homeland in Rakhine state, the statement said.
In a declaration at the end of the 57-member organization’s two-day meeting, the OIC, the Muslim world’s largest intergovernmental body, stressed the importance of continuing to be involved in the United Nations system to respond to rights violations against the Rohingya people.
Following a ministerial meeting in May 2018, the OIC said Myanmar’s treatment of Muslims in northern Rakhine state amounted to ethnic cleansing and was a “serious and blatant violation of international law.”
Sunil Barua in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, contributed to this report.