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International Court Gathering Evidence in Rohingya Case


FILE - Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi departs from Naypyidaw International Airport ahead of her appearance at the International Court of Justice, Dec. 8, 2019, to defend the nation against charges of genocide of its Rohingya Muslim minority.

A team from the International Criminal Court’s Office of the Prosecutor is in Bangladesh to begin mapping out an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya people from Myanmar.

“We are trying to establish the truth. We are trying to find those who are responsible for these crimes. We are trying to establish accountability,” Phakiso Mochochoko, who heads the ICC prosecutor’s jurisdiction division, told VOA in a phone interview.

He’s leading a team that arrived last week for meetings with Bangladesh officials in Dhaka, as well as with refugees in the southeastern district of Cox’s Bazar. More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims fled there from Buddhist-majority Myanmar’s Rakhine state after a military-led crackdown in August 2017. Last November 14, the ICC authorized an investigation into reports of widespread and systematic rape, killing and burning of villages directed against the Rohingya.

Jurisdiction question

Myanmar at the time rejected the ICC’s decision to go forward with an investigation. Such a probe “is not in accordance with international law,” government spokesman Zaw Htay said in a news conference a day later.

That country doesn’t recognize the ICC’s jurisdiction. But a three-judge panel reasoned that ICC prosecutors could pursue the case because “part of the criminal conduct” forced Rohingya to flee across the border into Bangladesh, a signatory to the 2010 Rome Statute establishing the court.

At a news conference Tuesday in Dhaka, Mochochoko encouraged Myanmar to cooperate with the investigation.

Mochochoko told VOA that the team would leave Bangladesh on Thursday for The Hague, where the ICC will review plans for gathering testimony and other evidence. The collection process, he said, ideally will “start immediately following this mission.”

'Long process'

But, Mochochoko warned, the investigation will take time.

“As we embark on this long process, definitely it is important for everyone – in particular the Rohingya people we are engaging with – to realize that the process is confidential,” he told VOA on Saturday. He emphasized that confidentiality was vital “not only between us and the Rohingya people that we meet with but also among the Rohingya themselves” to ensure that testimony is not compromised.

He also said that witnesses should report any threats. The ICC has a responsibility to ensure their safety, he emphasized.

Mochochoko said in Tuesday’s news conference that the ICC was working in tandem with the International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ top court. Last month, the ICJ ruled that Myanmar must take steps to prevent further violence against Rohingya remaining in the country.