The Rohingyas, who have been facing rights abuses in Myanmar for decades, now see a ray of hope of getting justice following a lawsuit with the highest UN court and the ICC’s approval to probe crimes against them.
Leaders of the persecuted community believe the steps will help mount pressure on Myanmar to grant them citizenship and other rights.
On November 11, the Gambia filed a case with the UN’sInternational Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingyas.
Two days later, several rights bodies filed a lawsuit with an Argentine court against Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and several top Myanmar officials over crimes against the Rohingyas.
On Thursday, the International Criminal Court (ICC) approved a full investigation into Myanmar’s alleged crimes against the persecuted community.
“We see a new hope of getting justice. It’s a big victory for us…
We have been facing genocidal crimes for decades,” said Nay Say Lwin, media coordinator of Free Rohingya Coalition, a global Rohingya organisation.
“Now Myanmar will be obliged to amend laws to grant us citizenship, and compensate the Rohingyas, including the women who were violated by the Myanmar army especially in 2017,” he told this newspaper over phone from Germany on Thursday.
In a statement yesterday, Amnesty International Director for East and Southeast Asia Nicholas Bequelin said the ICC decision marks an important step in the fight for justice and accountability in Myanmar and sends a strong message to the orchestrators of atrocities that their days of impunity are numbered.
He, however, mentioned that the ICC decision allows investigation into only some of the Myanmar military’s many crimes against ethnic minorities in that country. It remains essential that the UN Security Council refers the situation in the entire country to the ICC.
The Rohingyas were denied citizenship by Myanmar through a 1982 citizenship law. They have also been deprived of basic rights, including freedom of movement, health services and government jobs, since then.
Over the last four decades, waves of violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine State led hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Saudi Arabia and other countries.
Since August 2017, some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a brutal military campaign and took shelter in Bangladesh, joining some 300,000 others who had fled earlier waves of violence.
According to a report of the Ontario International Development Agency, Myanmar state forces killed nearly 24,000 Rohingyas and raped thousands of women and girls since August 2017. Their houses in Rakhine were burnt to ashes.
The UN termed the atrocities a classic example of ethnic cleansing, while UN independent investigators found elements of genocide in it. Yet, the UN Security Council took no concrete actions against Myanmar mainly because of opposition from China and Russia that have veto powers.
The Amnesty International says the Myanmar military continues to commit serious violations, including war crimes, against civilians in conflict-affected areas in Rakhine, Kachin and Shan states.
Meanwhile, a resolution on the situation of human rights of Rohingyas and other minorities in Myanmar was adopted at the third committee of the 74th UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday.
The resolution, placed by the UAE and Finland on behalf of the OIC and the EU, received 140 votes in its favour. Nine votes were cast against the resolution with 32 countries taking no side.
The UN member states that supported the resolution said it is a significant step towards ensuring protection of the human rights of forcibly displaced Rohingyas and their sustainable return to their place of origin.
Talking to this correspondent over phone from the UK, Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, said Myanmar refused to cooperate with the ICC investigation, arguing that it is not a state party to the Rome Statute. But it has to cooperate in the probe as it is an ICC member.
Nevertheless, the ICC can carry out investigation as Bangladesh, a state party to the Rome Statute, agreed to cooperate with it, he said.
The ICC can hold responsible individuals, not a state, for the crimes against Rohingyas. But the ICJ can hold Myanmar responsible as a state, he said.
Tun Khin said the UN and other international institutions are obligated to respond to an ICJ decision to help enforce a judgment against Myanmar.
“So, there could be further action from the UN Security Council or the UN General Assembly,” added the Rohingya activist.
According to the Article 94 of the UN charter, though the ICJ cannot enforce its decisions, all the UN members have to comply with its decisions in the cases in which they are parties.
“If any party to a case fails to perform the obligations incumbent upon it under a judgment rendered by the Court, the other party may have recourse to the Security Council, which may, if it deems necessary, make recommendations or decide upon measures to be taken to give effect to the judgment,” it says.
Razia Sultana, a Rohingya activist, said many countries remained silent about taking steps against Myanmar. They should now stop doing business with the Southeast Asian country to put pressure on it to stop genocide against the Rohingyas.
The OIC’s 57 member states are supporting the case with the ICJ, while Canada has come forward to back it, she said, urging all other UN members to throw their weight behind it.
Nay San Lwin said the Argentine court can also begin an independent investigation and issue arrest warrants against the accused in the case.
Rohingya activists are also preparing to file lawsuits with the national courts of some other countries, he added.
In a statement yesterday, Param-Preet Singh, associate director in the International Justice Programme of Human Rights Watch, said the ICC’s approval of investigation gives Rohingya victims renewed hope that the architects of the brutal scorched earth campaign against them may one day be held to account.
Rights activist Noor Khan Liton said Bangladesh, which has been taking the brunt of the Rohingya influx for decades, should strongly support the case with the ICJ.
“We cannot fail the Rohingyas anymore. If we do, it will be the worst instance in the global justice system,” he added.