Repatriating the Rohingya without ensuring their safety would be a crime unto itself
The clock is ticking for the UN Security Council to deliver justice for Rohingya refugees like us.
It has been more than a year since the Myanmar military launched its ethnic cleansing campaign that forced us and 700,000 other Rohingya to flee our homes and the country we love for Bangladesh.
Just over a month ago, a UN report finally recommended that the hell which Myanmar’s military leaders inflicted on us and our loved ones was nothing short of genocide. Yet, for those of us still living in refugee camps in Bangladesh, justice still seems far from sight.
For obvious reasons, the Myanmar government opposes any form of international criminal justice. And we all know their own domestic commission of inquiry is a sham that will never deliver the justice we deserve -- it is, quite simply, like asking a criminal to decide on his own fate.
For those of us living in refugee camps, our best hope is, therefore, for the International Criminal Court to be allowed to do the job it was set up to do. However, in order for the ICC to investigate all the crimes committed against the Rohingya and other Burmese people, the UN Security Council must first decide to take action.
But, so far, its permanent members have remained dangerously silent on whether in the face of genocide, they are prepared to stand up.
On one side we have China, which has deep economic ties to the Myanmar regime, and which is likely to block any ICC referral. And Russia indicated in September that it will do “whatever is necessary to enable the members of the council to avoid repeating the unsuccessful experiment of referring Security Council issues to the ICC.”
And on the other side we have the UK, which has been a constant advocate for the Rohingya people -- but now is the time for this advocacy to translate into action, including referring the situation to the ICC and encouraging others to do the same. Sweden and the Netherlands are two non-permanent members of the Security Council which have already called for this to happen, and many others are likely waiting in the wings.
Referring Myanmar to the ICC is the most direct way for world leaders to show that they stand on the side of justice. And it would demonstrate that the world has not forgotten the million Rohingya that languish in the world’s largest refugee camp.
It is important to take other steps too -- including sanctioning the brutal regime and supporting the new investigative mechanism established by the Human Rights Council -- but it is the threat of being hauled in front of judges in The Hague that truly worries the military leaders in Burma.
Instead, by letting economic interests trump justice, the Security Council is allowing impunity for some of the worst crimes the world has ever seen.
Myanmar’s military leaders remain in power. Without any repercussions for their actions, they will continue to terrorize the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.
This is justice not just for the Rohingya only, but also for the Kachin, Shan, and all of the other ethnic groups who continue to suffer discrimination under Myanmar’s oppressive military. As the head of the UN’s own fact-finding mission said just last week, genocide has not stopped in Myanmar. And to do this, people continue to flee to Bangladesh.
That is why, until justice is finally delivered, we cannot go home.
Repatriation at this stage would constitute refoulement. It is simply not yet safe and we will still lack any form of security from those we have sought security from. To this day, we know from our family still in Rakhine state that Myanmar has not changed any of the policies towards the Rohingya, and we need to see these changes before we can even consider going back
This hasty deal did not include any guarantees that it would be conducted in a voluntary manner, and rumours of whose names are on “the list” are running rampant here in the camps. People who have heard they are on the list have already gone into hiding, too fearful even to show up to distributions to collect the food rations they desperately need.
Despite assurances from UN’s refugee agency and Bangladesh, our people remain unconvinced. They are traumatized, lack information, and still remember what happened the last time people were sent back in the 1990s. In order to go home, we need our fundamental rights and citizenship restored, and the recognition of our ethnic name. We appeal to Bangladesh to not force us back without such assurances. And the perpetrators must be sent to the ICC. But for now, the root causes of conflict are far from resolved.
The mandate of the UN Security Council is to work toward a more peaceful world. If the Security Council cannot even take action on the world’s largest humanitarian crisis and one of the clearest examples of genocide, then how can they claim to be fulfilling their mandate? The clock is ticking to deliver justice for the Rohingya people.
Saiful, Rawshit, Jonal, Zahay, Mohammad R, and Mohammad J are a group of Rohingya youth and community leaders who fled Myanmar after August 2017 and are now living in refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.