World Islamic Group Votes to Take Myanmar Rohingya Abuses to International Court of Justice

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Foreign ministers and diplomats from the Organization of Islamic Conference attend a meeting Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 6, 2018.
Foreign ministers and diplomats from the Organization of Islamic Conference attend a meeting Dhaka, Bangladesh, May 6, 2018.

The world’s top Islamic intergovernmental body has unanimously adopted a resolution to pursue legal recourse through the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to seek accountability and justice for large-scale human rights violations committed against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, a statement issued by Bangladesh’s foreign ministry said.

The Council of Ministers of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) said it will also seek legal means through the ICJ to establish the legal rights of the Rohingya, the ministry said in a news release after the resolution passed on Monday.

The resolution came after a long series of negotiations to seek accountability for crimes committed against humanity and gross violations of human rights against Rohingya in Myanmar, it said.

“The OIC Council of Ministers at this Abu Dhabi meeting has taken a decision in a resolution to move that the International Court of Justice address the question of accountability and justice regarding the gross human rights violations against the Rohingyas,” Gousal Azam Sarjer, spokesman of Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry, told RFA’s Myanmar Service by phone on Tuesday.

In a declaration at the end of the 57-member organization’s two-day meeting in Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates, the OIC stressed the importance of its member states to continue to be involved in the United Nations system, including the General Assembly, the Rights Council, and relevant international organizations to respond to the rights violations against the Rohingya and the latest developments concerning them.

In a previous declaration following a ministerial meeting in May 2018, the OIC said that Myanmar’s treatment of Muslims in northern Rakhine state amounted to ethnic cleansing and is a “serious and blatant violation of international law.”

At that meeting, the OIC agreed to form an ad hoc ministerial committee to ensure accountability and justice for gross violations of international human rights against the Rohingya and to assist in gathering information and evidence collection for accountability purposes.

During the committee’s first session this February, it recommended taking legal steps to establish legal rights for the Rohingya on the principles of international law based on the U.N.’s Genocide Convention and other human rights and humanitarian law principles, the Bangladeshi government’s news release said.

Bangladesh houses more than 1.1 million Rohingya refugees, including over 730,000 who arrived there following a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar military forces in northern Rakhine state, which included killings, torture, rape, and arson in Muslim communities.

The Myanmar government justified the crackdown as a necessary countermeasure to defeat a group of Muslim militants in the state, and denied that its military had committed mass atrocities against the Rohingya, despite credible evidence and eyewitness accounts.

An extensive report by U.N. investigators in September 2018 detailed violence by Myanmar security forces and called for the prosecution of top military commanders on genocide charges at the International Criminal Court or by another criminal tribunal.

‘We will not accept it’

Reacting to news of the OIC’s measure, Myo Nyunt, spokesman of Myanmar’s ruling National League for Democracy government, said officials need to know which rights for the Rohingya the OIC is talking about.

“What do they mean?” he said. “If they ask us to recognize all of them as ‘ethnic Rohingya’ without identifying any of them, then it is interference in a country’s sovereignty, and we will not accept it at all.”

He reiterated Myanmar’s position of accepting back Rohingya who can prove previous residency in the country, according to the terms of a 1993 repatriation agreement between Myanmar and Bangladesh.

“If it [the OIC] pressures us to do something by force, we will have to protect our sovereignty,” Myo Nyunt said.

Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader in Myanmar who was a member of a commission headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan that called for an end to restrictions on the stateless Rohingya minority to prevent further violence in Rakhine state, said basic rights should be extended to all people affected by atrocities.

“A country is responsible to give rights not only to the Rohingya, but also to all victims,” he said.

“It is important for those responsible in the relevant country to understand that point,” he said. “So what is needed is to convince those people and make them understand.”

Myanmar is supposed to take back many of the Rohingya refugees living in sprawling displacement camps in southeastern Bangladesh under a repatriation agreement that the two countries signed in November 2017, but the program has yet to get underway.

The refugees say they are afraid to return to Myanmar, where they are viewed as illegal immigrants, denied citizenship, and subjected to systematic discrimination, unless their safety can be assured and they are guaranteed certain rights. None have agreed to return under current conditions.

In mid-February, Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s state minister for foreign affairs, raised the possibility with OIC member states of creating a civilian “safe zone” for Rohingya who return to Myanmar that would be monitored by human rights and humanitarian groups, according to a ministry press release.

During a briefing with OIC delegates who were in Geneva to attend the launch of the U.N. Joint Response Plan for the Rohingya Humanitarian Crisis for 2019, he also provided details about the Bangladeshi government’s plans to relocate some of the Rohingya refugees living in camps in the country's Cox’s Bazar district to Bhashan Char Island.

Rights groups have warned against the move, saying that the island is uninhabitable and prone to flooding.

Bangladesh told the U.N. on Feb. 28 that it could not accept any additional refugees from Myanmar, who have strained humanitarian resources in the impoverished country.

On Tuesday, Yanghee Lee, the United Nation’s special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said she was “concerned” by the suggestion of creating safe zones in northern Rakhine state for returning Rohingya refugees, Reuters news agency reported, without elaborating.

Reported by Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.





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