Human rights lawyers representing 400 Rohingya women and girls have called upon the International Criminal Court in The Hague to open a criminal investigation into the continuing atrocities, including genocide, against the Rohingyas.
It comes as the latest twist in a brewing dispute about whether the international court has the authority to intervene in what the United Nations and United States have called a clear case of ethnic cleansing, reports The New York Times.
“We feel so vulnerable. We feel so sad. We are unable to bear the emptiness of losing our family members,” said the women on Wednesday in a petition that included an unusual annex: 20 pages of purple thumbprints of the Rohingya women and girls, most of them illiterate refugees.
“We are looking for justice from the United Nations and the International Criminal Court,” it said.
Eminent academics and right activists in Dhaka, meanwhile, urged Bangladesh government to submit a strong observation to the ICC over investigation on the alleged genocide by the Myanmar military.
Over 700,000 Rohingyas fled a military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine since late August last year. Thousands were reportedly killed, women raped, houses burnt and bulldozed.
The UN Security Council has not referred Myanmar's situation to the ICC due to oppositions from veto powers China and Russia despite calls for the global body to do so.
The ICC Prosecution has sought intervention from ICC over jurisdiction to investigate the expulsion of Rohingyas from Myanmar to Bangladesh. The international court then sought written observations from Bangladesh on the matter by June 11. The Bangladesh government is yet to respond.
Human rights lawyers, who filed a petition to the ICC, argue since hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have been deported to Bangladesh, and since this can be construed as continuing crimes against humanity taking place in Bangladesh, a member of the court, the prosecutor can have jurisdiction to act.
Bangladesh is not suspected of crimes, but would provide the route to jurisdiction.
The petition submitted by Shanti Mohila (peace women) said as long as Myanmar refused the return of the Rohingya and forced them to live in terrible conditions, its “crimes of apartheid, persecution and genocide continue” even outside its territory.
“If a person is illegally detained, the crime isn't over until that person is released,” said Wayne Jordash, the lead human rights lawyer representing the Rohingya women.
“Similarly, in this case, the crimes are ongoing. The Myanmar authorities are maintaining conditions for either the destruction of the group or so they can't go home.”
Many witnesses said the Myanmar soldiers rounded up civilians and systematically slaughtered them, sometimes in groups of several hundred. Countless women and girls were brutalised and raped.
“The authorities in Myanmar have become more intransigent over time, not less,” said Param-Preet Singh, an international justice specialist at Human Rights Watch.
“Against this backdrop, the idea that Myanmar's military and security forces would hold themselves to account feels especially divorced from reality.
“The only clear path to justice left for victims is the ICC,” she added.
SUBMIT STRONG OBSERVATIONS TO ICC
Academics and activists at a discussion in the capital yesterday said Bangladesh should submit strong observations to the ICC for holding the Myanmar military accountable.
They observed that stakeholders, including the government, civil society, academics and rights activists should unite and address the Rohingya crisis.
Dr Fazrin Huda, associate professor of world religions and culture at Dhaka University, said, “If we can take Myanmar military to the international court, we can start the process towards ensuring justice for the Rohingyas.”
Dhaka University Research Society and Coastal Association for Social Transformation Trust jointly organized the discussion on “Genocide and Atrocities against Rohingyas: Accountability and International Criminal Court” at the TSC of DU.
Prof Mofizur Rahman, chairperson of the Department of Mass Communication and Journalism, said the situation was very complex as the neighbouring countries were not supporting Bangladesh in addressing the crisis.
Saiful Huq Omi, lecturer of the Department of Television, Film and Photography of DU, said atrocities on Rohingya people took place on multiple occasions in the past, but the magnitude of those situations were not as big as it was now.