Bangladesh should respond to the International Criminal Court's (ICC) request for the country's observations on the matter of the court's jurisdiction over the Rohingya crisis, and submit the relevant documents to aid the process, human rights and criminal justice experts said on Monday.
Discussing the issue at an international seminar titled “Accountability: ICC and the Rohingya Crisis,” speakers also highlighted some key issues that the Bangladesh government should address in its response.
The event, jointly organized by the Centre for Genocide Studies of Dhaka University, the Centre for Peace and Justice of Brac University, and ActionAid Bangladesh, took place at the Nabab Nawab Ali Chowdhury Senate Bhaban of Dhaka University.
In April, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court’s judges to rule on whether the ICC “can exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh.”
Earlier in May, the ICC asked Bangladesh for its observations on the matter, saying the country had been “affected by the events concerning the alleged deportation of Rohingya people from Myanmar.”
The ICC requested the Bangladesh government to submit written observations on the issue by June 11. Bangladesh has yet to respond.
Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, international relations expert and director, Centre for Genocide Studies, suggested that Bangladesh respond positively to the ICC, adding that doing so would not impact the Bangladesh-Myanmar bilateral relations.
Urging the government to respond positively to the ICC's request, Farah Kabir, country director of ActionAid Bangladesh, said: “The legal matters are complex, and it's going to be a long dragged out process, but we are talking about people here; they must be put in the centre. We urge the Government of Bangladesh to make the submission by the deadline. There are technicalities [regarding the documentation], but even the victims have made a submission, so nothing can stop us.”
Hundreds of Rohingyas, victims of the military crackdown in Myanmar's Rakhine state that began in August 2017 and forced to cross over to Bangladesh, appealed to the ICC judges to grant prosecutors jurisdiction to investigate deportations from Myanmar to Bangladesh, Reuters reported on May 31.
“We are of Rohingya identity and we want justice," the group, consisting around 400 victims, said in a letter submitted to the court on May 30, demanding that the court take action. “We have been raped, tortured and killed.”
Justice Syed Reefat Ahmed, who attended the seminar as special guest, said it would take time to gather all the documents to submit to the ICC.
Former ICC prosecutor for Yugoslavia Tribunal Kate Vigneswaran, who is also a consultant at the UN Office on Drugs & Crime, gave an insight on the limitations, role and principles of the ICC at the seminar on Monday.
“There are factors like gravity. The prosecution is not going to exercise its jurisdiction unless the gravity requirement has been made,” she said.
She also shared her thoughts on what this means for Bangladesh and what the implications are if jurisdiction is granted.
“Bangladesh itself in a position to prosecute these crimes if it has a domestic basis to do so and a fair trial process stance can be made in a way that satisfies the requirements of the Rome Statute. So if they get jurisdiction, and Bangladesh decides to prosecute, the court will defer to them.”
She further said: From what I understand, Myanmar is also concerned about accountability... This actually has the potential to defer future attacks.”
Philip M Ruddock, former father of the Australian parliament, former attorney general of Australia, and the current mayor of Hornsby Shire, emphasized the effectiveness of sanctions to put pressure on Myanmar.
“Sanctions, effectively put in place, produce a significant change. In my view, change could occur if the UN is prepared to use sanctions... it could be quick to deliver and you need Russia and China on board [for that].”
He also pointed out China's interests in the Indian Ocean which is making the process difficult, and how the UN Security Council can play a role here.
Ruddock also stressed the importance of evidence. “Unless you have the evidence, you won’t get to the court. The Bangladesh government needs to collaborate in relation to that.”
Kate Vigneswaran said: “Documentation on citizenship, verification card, what people brought with them in Bangladesh – all that will be useful. The most useful is some official documents from the government, but it’s difficult in this context because of Myanmar.”
She also mentioned that the responsibility of Rohingya rehabilitation lied with Myanmar.
Centre for Peace and Justice Executive Director and ActionAid Bangladesh Chairperson Manzoor Hasan Obe also spoke at the event.
Bangladesh supporting the International Criminal Court (ICC) on the issue of Rohingya crisis will not have any negative impact on Bangladesh-Myanmar bilateral relations, said Prof Imtiaz Ahmed, director , Centre for Genocide Studies at Dhaka University.
Pointing out legal and political difficulties in regard to responding to the ICC on the jurisdictions, he said: “One can understand why the government is working on bilateral relations. You can see how they changed from day one. Myanmar can feel the pressure, because they know what happened [within their territory].
“This has nothing to do with Bangladesh and Myanmar. It has to do with certain groups in the military and the collaborators committing crimes against humanity or genocide or ethnic cleansing – that’s the issue.”
He also emphasized that the pressure on Myanmar has its impact, using the example of how China and India are changing their stance on the issue. “India has also changed and it is now openly talking about a solution. China has the One Belt One Road Initiative, [by which] it can put pressure on Myanmar.”
Emaphasizing on geopolitical situation, Imtiaz said: “In case of China and Russia, if one says yes, the other will join in. Bangladesh should invite Putin to Dhaka; that will bring change.”