In November 2019, Judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) authorised the request by ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to investigate alleged crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya people from Myanmar. In fact, the ICC investigation began that day though we understand there are various forms of investigation with a number of phases.
This authorization to open an investigation is a significant development for the pursuit of justice and the establishment of the truth, in particular for the victims of alleged crimes of this situation. Despite repeated attempts, Myanmar is not cooperating with the Office of the ICC Prosecutor. While Myanmar is not a State Party, Bangladesh ratified the ICC Rome Statute in 2010. Rohingyas were forced to cross the border and take shelter in Bangladesh. And naturally Bangladesh is extending cooperation to the ICC in every possible way.
On February 4, a delegation from the Office of the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) concluded its latest visit to Bangladesh as part of ongoing activities by the ICC Office of the Prosecutor (OTP) in accordance with its mandate under the Rome Statute, concerning the situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar.
The Office of the Prosecutor has expressed optimism that justice will finally be done to Rohingyas though this is going to be a long, hard and challenging process of investigation.
"Yes, it’s been three years since the crimes were committed but justice will still be done. It may take a year, it may take two years or it may take another three years but ultimately justice will be done,” said Phakiso Mochochoko, Director of Jurisdiction, Cooperation and Complementarity, noting that the investigation has begun already.
Expressing optimism over identifying the individual perpetrators of the crimes committed against Rohingyas, he said if these crimes are investigated and prosecuted, hopefully anybody “will think twice” in the future knowing that there is justice.
Mochochoko who led the delegation during Bangladesh visit, urged all to have patience as the process is a lengthy one. The investigation may cover alleged crimes committed since June 2010, when Bangladesh joined the ICC, and includes any future crime as long as they are sufficiently linked to the situation.
Responding to a question, he said their investigators are experienced, and they are well-trained investigators having the expertise in collecting evidence that will lead to identify who the perpetrators are. Myanmar is not cooperating with the ICC in collecting evidence what he finds a challenge but not a barrier.
“The investigation will take the time needed to uncover the truth of what happened. Justice is an important expectation,” Mochochoko said adding that it, however, cannot do everything for the Rohingya people and bring back loved ones lost to the violence.
Together, he said, their aim is to make sure that these stories are known, and not forgotten, and that after careful investigation, those whom their evidence shows bear the greatest responsibility for the crimes and face justice.
Responding to a question, Mochochoko said there is no death penalty but the maximum punishment will be “life sentence” on individuals who will be found guilty.
He said the investigators from the office of the Prosecutor will now carefully and thoroughly seek to uncover the truth about what happened to the Rohingya people in Myanmar in which brought them here to Bangladesh.
Bangladesh is now hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar district and most of them entered Bangladesh since August 25, 2017 amid military crackdown in Rakhine State of Myanmar against Rohingyas.
In a sweeping legal victory for members of the Rohingya Muslim minority, the United Nations' top court - International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to take all measures in its power to prevent genocide against the Rohingya people.
The court's president, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, said the International Court of Justice "is of the opinion that the Rohingya in Myanmar remain extremely vulnerable.
Mochochoko sees the ICJ development positively noting that these two approaches – ICC and ICJ – can go ahead together.
And the repatriation process of Rohingyas to their place of origin has no link with the legal progress.
Confidentiality is absolutely one fundamental element for the investigations. Mochochoko said the details, methods and progress of the investigation will not be made public during the entire investigation phase which is now underway.
Developments in the situation will be made public by the Office and Court at the appropriate time, he added.
“Confidentiality is crucial not just for the integrity of the investigation but also for the security of all involved including the victims and witnesses,” said Mochochoko adding that they will not be commenting on rumors concerning specific aspects of the investigation.
He said all their investigations are independent, impartial and objective, and they conduct them in strict conformity with applicable law and evidentiary standards. “We would ask you not to fuel speculations and rumours in your reporting.”
Gratitude to Bangladesh
Mochochoko thanked the Bangladesh authorities for the crucial support provided during the delegation’s visit.
In the past week, he said, they met and engaged with key stakeholders -- both in the capital as well as in Cox’s Bazar -- from different government ministries and institutions.
“We have also had positive interactions with civil society organisations, international organisations, as well as the diplomatic community in Bangladesh,” Mochochoko said.
He said these engagements have been productive and they are grateful for the opportunity. “As we undertake our independent investigations, we look forward to continued support and collaboration.”