International Criminal Court chief prosecutor Karim Khan says the world must not look away from Myanmar’s Rohingya


The chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court told CNN on Friday that efforts to bring justice to the Rohingya must be accelerated and the world must not look away from the ongoing crisis.

Chief Prosecutor Karim Khan visited Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. for four days this week to hear testimonies from survivors of the alleged genocide by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya population.

“There is heartbreak in these camps,” Khan said in an exclusive interview with CNN. “You feel like the world is looking elsewhere, at Ukraine (and) other epicentres. And they have a right to justice.”

More than 700,000 people have been living in impoverished and overcrowded refugee camps in Bangladesh since fleeing attacks in Myanmar’s Rakhine State that began in August 2017.

In 2019, judges at the International Criminal Court authorized a full investigation into alleged crimes against humanity directed against the predominantly Muslim Rohingya people, including systematic acts of violence, forced deportation, and ethnic and religious persecution.

Those who fled the bloody raid committed murder, rape, torture and arson, among other activities.

The chief prosecutor acknowledged that the court was frustrated by the speed with which the court issued an arrest warrant for Russian President Vladimir Putin over alleged plans to deport Ukrainian children to Russia. The Rohingya have now waited six years and no such action has been taken against the Myanmar military leaders who ordered the attacks.

“The big difference is that we have access to Ukraine but not access to Myanmar,” Khan said. “My presence here, my presence over the last year and the team’s almost constant presence here over the last year … are proof that they have not been forgotten.”

International Criminal Court prosecutor Karim Khan visits Kutupalong Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on July 6.

Khan said his office is trying to source additional resources and has appointed a senior lawyer to lead the Myanmar team.

On Thursday, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Volker Türk said Myanmar was “continuing its deadly freefall into deeper violence and heartbreak” and that the military junta, which took power in a coup in 2021, was employing “systematic control tactics, fear and violence.” Terror”. ”

Asked whether ongoing alleged crimes by the military against civilians in Myanmar could be used as part of a prosecution, Khan said, “We only have jurisdiction because Bangladesh is a State Party.”

Known as the world’s “court of last resort,” the International Criminal Court is mandated to try genocide, crimes against humanity, crimes of aggression and war crimes. Although 123 countries are parties to the treaty that created the court, Myanmar is not a party, but Bangladesh is.

While “we need as wide a range of evidence as possible,” Khan said, “the judges have concluded that we can investigate cases where at least one of the elements of the crime was committed on this territory.”

The ICC investigation runs parallel to, but separately from, a genocide case brought by The Gambia to the International Court of Justice and another case in which the Argentine judiciary is investigating alleged war crimes under the principles of “universal justice”.

The ICC prosecutor said it was important to show that there are “red lines that must not be crossed” and that “politics, national interests and the goals of retaining power are not good enough to protect the rights of the trampling on civilians.”

“I think we’re failing together, and I think in the office I lead, we’re trying to be more purposeful and get results by separating truth from fiction,” Khan said.

But he noted, “The world cannot look away.”

Families in the camps are completely dependent on aid and have seen repeated cuts in their food allowances, children are unable to go to school and young people have few opportunities, Khan said.

“Now families get 9 taka (8 cents) for a meal every day. And the price of a single egg is 12 taka (11 cents). Therefore, the food should not be taken from the children’s plates and diverted elsewhere,” he said.

Last month, the World Food Program was forced to cut food rations for Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh after suffering a $56 million funding shortfall.

According to the UN Human Rights Agency, the value of the rations fell to about 27 cents a day as a result of the cuts.

Mohamed Rofique, 35, has been living in the camp with his family of four since fleeing the violence in his hometown of Maungdaw, Rakhine State.

He told CNN on Friday that the food shortage is hitting his community hard.

“Eight dollars food ration for a month per person is not enough. There is no income opportunity for the Rohingya living in the camp,” he said.

Mohammad, 26, a leader of the Rohingya community, who gave only his first name for security reasons, said the camps are where criminal groups operate and life there is “like a live human being in a boiling pan because the camp is not secure.”

Reduced food rations have “forced many youth to take risky boat trips in search of a better life.” “It forces many refugees to be exploited by smugglers to feed their families. It allows the pimps to exploit them for sex work. It increases the number of child marriages and child labor in the camps,” said Mohammad, who campaigns for Rohingya rights in the camp.

According to camp officials and local media, a man died Thursday after being stabbed to death in the sprawling refugee camp on the same day as Khan’s visit. However, the two events appear unrelated.

Despite the grim Given the poor conditions in Cox’s Bazar and concerns that his community will one day be repatriated to Myanmar, Rofique is optimistic about the ICC’s investigation.

“The ICC and ICJ are handling the case in accordance with the law. We believe that they will give these perpetrators the just punishment,” he said.

Mohammad said the Rohingya “seek justice for the atrocities and genocide committed against our community and want the real perpetrators to be brought to justice.”

“We also hope that the ICC’s investigation will result in formal recognition of the crimes committed by the Myanmar military junta,” he added.

Chief Prosecutor Khan believed Myanmar’s military leaders, including junta leader Min Aung Hlaing, could be held accountable.

Khan pointed to historic trials of former Yugoslav President Slobodan Milošević, former Liberian leader Charles Taylor and former Rwandan Prime Minister Jean Kambanda.

“One thing is certain,” he said. “If we don’t collect evidence, analyze evidence, if we don’t examine what is incriminating and what is exonerating, there will be no chance of justice.”

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