Rohingya Optimistic over International Prosecutor’s Trip to Bangladesh Refugee Camps

Kamran Reza Chowdhury and Sunil Barua
2022.02.28
Dhaka and Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
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Rohingya Optimistic over International Prosecutor’s Trip to Bangladesh Refugee Camps Rohingya walk along a dirt path inside the Ukhia camp in Cox’s Bazar, Feb. 15, 2022.
Sunil Barua/BenarNews

Rohingya leaders in Bangladesh expressed optimism on Monday about getting justice for alleged crimes against humanity committed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, after the International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor wrapped up his first visit to refugee camps.

Prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan said The Hague-based ICC had authorized an investigation in November 2019, but the COVID-19 pandemic had slowed efforts to visit Bangladesh to gather evidence at Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, a southeastern district along the border with Myanmar.

At that time, the pre-trial chamber concluded that it was reasonable “to believe that since at least 9 October 2016, members of the Tatmadaw [the Myanmar military], jointly with other security forces and with some participation of local civilians, may have committed coercive acts” against the Rohingya people that constitute crimes against humanity, according to a 55-page court document.

“We have to work together to achieve justice and show that international law is not an abstract idea, it is not something for the law book and for students, for academics or even judges just speak to,” Karim Khan said during a press conference at a hotel in Dhaka on Sunday at the end of his weeklong trip to Bangladesh.

“It will not be easy, there will not be justice tomorrow, justice is hard earned,” he said. “But I believe it can be achieved and certainly I cannot give promises, but I do not want my successor to be giving a similar speech.”

Karim Khan called the Rohingya a key priority and noted that he had increased resources tied to the investigation.

His visit to the country included meetings with the law minister and other officials, Rohingya refugees other stakeholders.

Md. Ilias, an adviser to the Arakan Rohingya National Union, called the prosecutor’s statement a positive development.

“We believe the investigation will expose how cruel genocide and crimes against humanity were perpetrated against the Rohingya people by the Myanmar military,” he told BenarNews on Monday.

“We have handed over to the ICC prosecutor all sorts of documents relating to the persecution and genocide of the Rohingya. This is highly likely that the verdict of the case will certainly go in favor of the Rohingya if the international community stands by us,” Ilias said.

Karim Khan’s visit to Bangladesh unfolded as the International Court of Justice, a sister court to the ICC that is also based in The Hague, held hearings to determine whether it has jurisdiction to judge if atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military against Rohingya constituted a genocide.

The case stems from a lawsuit brought by Gambia, a Muslim-majority nation in West Africa, against Myanmar before the ICJ. Gambia is accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention through the alleged expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Rakhine state to Bangladesh amid a brutal crackdown in 2017.

Khan, the ICC prosecutor, visited Cox’s Bazar on Saturday and spoke with about 10 Rohingya at one of the refugee camps, according to attendee Khing Maung.

“Actually, this is his first meeting with the Rohingya. He told us that the ICC prosecution team has been working to ensure that the Rohingya people get justice,” he told BenarNews, adding that the prosecutor promised to return.

IMG-20220301-WA0001.jpg
ICC chief prosecutor Karim A.A. Khan speaks to reporters in Dhaka, Feb. 27, 2022. [BenarNews]

Another Rohingya expressed hope for a positive verdict and a better life for himself and other refugees.

“If the ICC verdict goes in favor of the Rohingya, the Myanmar military would come under pressure. Then there could be an opportunity for the Rohingya to return to our homeland in Myanmar,” Md. Salim Ullah told BenarNews. “In that case, the international community must stand by us.”

‘Evidence is needed’

For his part, Karim Khan said he and his team had work to do before trying any cases.

“We are doing criminal investigations. One thing is certain: evidence is needed to build cases,” he said.

“We have to prove allegations beyond reasonable doubt in the courtroom – this is why we need hard evidence that we have checked, that we have verified, that we have confidence in because in due course the defense will have the right to challenge it,” he said. “And I need to be confident in the evidence, and in the end the truth we believe in will prevail and the judge will make the right decision based on that.”

Meanwhile, a former Bangladeshi foreign secretary expressed doubt that a positive verdict for the Rohingya would open Myanmar for repatriation.

“I think the ICC could convict some five to 10 officials of the Myanmar military for the genocide and ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya. But the main problem would arise in executing the verdict,” Md. Touhid Hossain told BenarNews on Monday.

“Myanmar military officials usually do not go outside the country. … So convictions of some officials are unlikely to force them to accept the Rohingya,” Hossain said. “Repatriation is a political decision for Myanmar.”

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