Myanmar’s admission before the top UN court that its army could have committed crimes against humanity in Rakhine State comes as a primary victory for the Rohingyas, say analysts.
Bangladesh should now work closely with the international community to continue the legal and diplomatic battles for justice for the persecuted community, a number of refugee researchers and international relations experts told The Daily Star.
The Gambia’s filing of the genocide case against Myanmar gave a momentum to the efforts to ensure justice for the Rohingyas, they said.
“Myanmar’s admission that its military has done excesses during the clearance operations is a primary defeat for the country,” said Prof Delwar Hossain of international relations at Dhaka University.
During the December 10-12 hearing at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Myanmar’s lawyers admitted that the atrocities committed against the Rohingyas could be crimes against humanity but denied those had genocidal intent.
The Gambia, which filed the case on November 11 accusing Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingyas, argued that Myanmar had a state policy of eliminating the persecuted community.
It said Myanmar’s denial of citizenship to the Rohingyas and their ethnicity, and restrictions on their freedom of movement are all part of that genocidal policy.
Lawyers for The Gambia argued that promoting the narratives of hatred, mass killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and burning of Rohingya villages in 2016 and 2017 bear the testimony of genocide.
They requested the ICJ to issue “provisional measures” to stop the ongoing genocide against the Rohingyas.
Gambian lawyer Paul Reichler termed fraud Myanmar’s statement that Rohingya repatriation is in place.
Myanmar didn’t speak of the incidents of rape and sexual violence that are essential elements of genocide, and that it failed in its obligation to prevent and investigate genocide and to enact effective legislation criminalising genocide and punish the offenders, he mentioned.
Referring to Myanmar’s statement that it was trying the members of its security forces for excesses, Paul Reichler said the country cannot be trusted to put its own soldiers on trial.
Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and her team of lawyers denied the accusation of genocide by saying that the “clearance operations” in Rakhine, which forced some 750,000 Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh since August 2017, was a matter of internal armed conflict.
They urged the ICJ to dismiss the genocide case and not to issue “provisional measures”.
During an interview with The Daily Star on Thursday, Delwar said it might take several months for the ICJ to issue an order in the case.
“What is important here is that the entire world witnessed Myanmar lie at the top UN court.”
The arguments laid out by the Gambian lawyers were very strong compared to those presented by the Myanmar side, he said.
Myanmar is now under huge pressure. The international community should support The Gambia so that it can carry on the legal battle, said the DU teacher.
Prof Shahab Enam Khan of international relations at Jahangirnagar University said this is unprecedented that both the UN and the OIC are working for the cause of the Rohingyas.
“This squarely goes against Myanmar. If the legal battle goes right, the issue may be tabled at the UN Security Council,” he told this newspaper over the phone yesterday.
“A momentum has been created, and Bangladesh should make efforts to sustain it.”
He suggested that Bangladesh strengthen its relations with the US, Russia and China to ensure that they support the case if it goes to the UN Security Council.
“In this legal battle, evidence is extremely important. Bangladesh should make all efforts to protect the evidence and witnesses of violence against the Rohingyas,” he said.
Shireen Huq, co-convener of Bangladesh Civil Society Platform on Justice and Accountability for the Rohingyas, said Canada and the Netherlands have supported The Gambia, but more countries should come forward to back the African nation that showed great courage.