Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh expressed elation Thursday over an International Court of Justice ruling that went against Myanmar in a landmark genocide case, saying it gave them hope that they could return safely to Rakhine state one day.
Crowds of refugees among the 1.1 million Rohingya Muslims sheltering at camps in southeastern Cox’s Bazar district fixed their eyes on TV sets as they watched live coverage of the verdict from the ICJ based in The Hague, Netherlands.
“This verdict makes us hopeful about our desired repatriation, repatriation with safety and dignity, to Arakan [Rakhine]," Abdur Rahim, a refugee who serves as vice president of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, an NGO, told BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service, after watching the verdict on television.
"All Rohingya people are happy with the judgment,” Rahim said.
A 17-judge panel of the ICJ ruled unanimously in ordering Myanmar to take measures to shield the stateless Rohingya minority from further atrocities as well as to refrain from destroying evidence of alleged crimes that could be used in future hearings.
As the judges handed down their ruling, some of the refugees in Bangladesh wept. Others started to pray.
Lee, who has been barred by Naypyidaw from returning to that country, held a news conference in Bangladesh’s capital ahead of the end of her six-year U.N. assignment in March.
The case against Myanmar was brought before the International Court of Justice by Gambia, a tiny, predominantly Muslim West African nation that urged the ICJ to ensure that atrocities against the Rohingya people do not continue.
Last month, lawyers representing Gambia cited information from a U.N.-mandated fact-finding commission, whose final report concluded that attacks on Rohingya in Rakhine were carried out with “genocidal intent.”
“The Gambia case tells our suffering and pain. This judgment gives us the sense that we may get recognition as Rohingya in Myanmar. We thank Almighty God,” Shahana Akter, a Rohingya woman living at the Lambarshia camp in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews on Thursday.
More than 740,000 Rohingya crossed into Bangladesh as they fled a brutal military offensive, which was launched in the wake of attacks by Rohingya insurgents on police and army outposts in Rakhine in August 2017.
From Ecuador, where he was on a working visit, A.K. Abdul Momen, the Bangladeshi foreign minister, praised the court’s ruling.
He called the verdict “a victory for humanity” and “a milestone for human rights activists across all nations.”
Since 2018, Bangladesh and Myanmar have pushed a bilateral plan for the voluntary repatriation of Rohingya refugees from camps in and around Cox’s Bazar. The program has failed to take off because refugees have refused to go back to Rakhine, voicing fears about their safety and lack of citizenship in Myanmar.
Earlier in the day, Lee, the United Nations special rapporteur, held a news conference in Dhaka as she prepared to release a report on her six-year mission in March.
Although the ICJ had not yet ruled in the case against Myanmar, Lee said she hoped Naypyidaw would follow through on the court’s decisions and recommendations.
Lee criticized the U.N. Security Council for failing to refer the plight of Rohingya refugees and the human rights situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court. That court prosecutes individual persons over alleged war crimes, whereas the ICJ hears cases brought against U.N. member-states.
She pointed her criticism at China and Russia – two of the council’s five permanent members, which have the power to veto resolutions issued by the world body – as she referred to Beijing’s and Moscow’s resistance to efforts to take the case before the International Criminal Court.
“We must continue to put pressure on the Security Council for its failure to do this. By not referring the situation to the ICC, the Security Council is really not fulfilling its obligations and responsibilities set forth under the U.N. Charter,” Lee said.
She said she would recommend the establishment of an international ad hoc tribunal dedicated to the human rights situation in Myanmar.
“It is shameful for the states to not do anything in the face of what all the evidence we have,” she said. “[I] am hoping that, especially China, with its attempt to become one of the top global leaders: you cannot become a global leader without respecting human rights.”
Reported by BenarNews, an RFA-affiliated online news service.