For Rohingya people justice is a little bit closer today, as hearings begin at the International Court of Justice on charges of genocide tabled against Myanmar’s military leaders and government. But whilst this is a great step forward the international community has not done enough to push for justice and accountability in the last few years. They must now support these legal avenues and push harder for real justice for the Rohingya people.
Background to the crisis
In August 2017, wide-spread violence erupted throughout northern Rakhine State in Myanmar against Rohingya people and communities at the hands of Myanmar’s military. This followed years of discriminatory policies and practices against the Rohingya people. People saw their homes and villages burned to the ground. Children saw their parents and family members killed. Women and girls faced horrific sexual violence.
“When the military came to my village, they told us we had to leave Myanmar. They said we don’t belong there. They took away our cows and water buffaloes and then they set our village on fire. Without any warning they shot both of my parents in front of my eyes.” Nor*, 16-year-old boy. His story is just one example of the horrors faced by Rohingya children during that time.
As a result, thousands of Rohingya people fled the violence and began a long march to seek safety and refuge in Bangladesh. Over 900,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since and over 400,000 of them are children. Over two years have passed butRohingya people are still waiting to see those responsible for this horrific violence held to account. The international community has not done enough to accelerate the path to justice.
Pathways to justice are finally opening up
November saw big steps towards justice for Rohingya people, with cases and investigations opening up at the International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice, and in Argentinian courts on the crimes committed by the Myanmar authorities against the Rohingya people.
Gambia filed a case at the International Court of Justice (the UN’s highest court) accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya people. Those hearings begin today, with Aung San Suu Kyi herself defending Myanmar against the accusations of genocide. This is the first legal challenge that Myanmar faces on the violence and bloodshed perpetrated against the Rohingya in 2017. Whilst the court has no way of enforcing it’s rulings the case could be a major blow to the reputation of Myanmar’s government and military.
Rohingya activists filed a lawsuit in Argentinian courts, accusing Myanmar authorities of committing genocide against the Rohingya people. Whilst the leaders and individuals named in the lawsuit do not live in Argentina, the case sends a strong message to the Myanmar authorities that their crimes will not go without punishment. It also puts pressure on governments around the world to take action and work towards achieving real justice for the Rohingya people.
Finally, last month the International Criminal Court announced that it would open an investigation into the situation in Myanmar and Bangladesh. They will investigate the mass migration of Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh. This is a crucial step forward, as it means that those responsible for these crimes could one day soon by prosecuted and brought to justice. Whilst this is welcome news, now more than ever the international community must step up and help Rohingya achieve real justice. The investigation announced by the ICC is a good start, but it is limited in scope and will not lead to lasting justice.
International community plays a key role in supporting justice for the Rohingya people
The UN Security Council can make this better by expanding the remit of the investigation and calling on all of the crimes committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya to be investigated and tried by the ICC. The UK has a key role to play in achieving this, it can use its power and influence to get the Security Council talking about this and supporting all of these legal moves towards achieving justice.
The path to justice will be long. It may well be several years before we see decisive legal action that holds those responsible for the horrific violence suffered by Rohingya people and children to account. But today we are a little bit closer to achieving that justice, it is now vital that the UK and governments around the world stand with the Rohingya people and do all they can to make sure that we achieve justice for the Rohingya.