One can hardly take any pleasure in saying so, but to the perpetrators of the most egregious crimes, of genocide and ethnic cleansing and other crimes against humanity, a global pandemic such as the one we have witnessed - indeed, we are still in its midst - where pretty much every country on the face of our planet is wreaked by disease and some of the most important advocates for universal values have been brought to their knees, it will have come laced with opportunities. To hide and cover up their crimes; to stall and renege on their commitments; in the worst cases, to continue their policies of hatred and prejudice, sensing they can get away with it. It is up to those who profess to stand on the other side to not relent.
The most obvious and glaring example of such opportunism that confronts us today is of course that of the persecuted Rohingya population out of Myanmar, over a million of whom are to be found residing in quite dreadful conditions in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar district in Bangladesh. Their case, if we recall, was being heard in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and towards the end of January, just as the pandemic was beginning to take hold beneath the radar in many parts of the world, we celebrated what was a landmark judgement of the World Court, as it is known, when they passed down an order for “provisional measures” requiring the government headed by Aung San Suu Kyi to prevent genocidal acts, ensure military and police forces do not commit genocide, preserve evidence and report back on its compliance within four months. That first report has been duly submitted, but in the throes of the pandemic, it went largely under the radar. Now over two dozen rights groups from various countries have banded together in urging the ICJ to make Myanmar’s report available to the public.
Accounts continuing to emerge out of Myanmar, plus the boat-loads of refugees that continue to turn up on the shores of neighbouring countries (including Bangladesh, Malaysia and Indonesia) to go with a steady trickle over land across treacherous terrain into the Bangladeshi camps, clearly reflect that conditions on the ground have not improved. We also know that Myanmar continues to block access to key areas of the country, particularly in Rakhine state, for outside observers.
In such a situation, keeping the reports confidential undermines the effectiveness of the Court’s order, and potentially allows it to continue skirting its obligations under the Genocide Convention. It obviously prevents Rohingya communities and other observers who may have relevant information and expertise from being able to scrutinize the reports for misinformation and to call it out, as we must. To continue allowing for such secrecy gravely endangers public confidence in the process, for let us not forget that one of the cardinal principles of justice is that not only must justice be done, but it must also be seen to be done.