‘Justice served’: Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh hail ICJ ruling

UN top court’s order asking Myanmar to prevent further genocide of mainly Muslim Rohingya cheered at Cox’s Bazar camps.

Rohingya camp 3 - January 23
The ICJ ruling was cheered by refugees as their first major legal victory since they were forced from their homes in 2017 [Faisal Mahmud/Al Jazeera]

Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh – Nearly a dozen men were glued to a television screen inside a ramshackle shop in southern Bangladesh‘s Kutupalong refugee camp, home to nearly 40,000 Rohingya refugees.

The men were watching the proceedings at the International Court of Justice at The Hague, which on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide.

The United Nations’ top court rejected Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi‘s defence last month when she refuted genocide charges but admitted the country’s military may have used excessive force against the mainly Muslim minority.

The ICJ case was filed by the Muslim-majority African nation of The Gambia, which had asked the court to impose emergency measures following the Myanmar army’s 2017 crackdown that forced around 740,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Rohingya camp 1 January 23
Rohingya refugees watching a live telecast of the ICJ trial at the Kutupalong camp [Faisal Mahmud/Al Jazeera]

The ICJ ruling was cheered by refugees as their first major legal victory since they were forced from their homes.

“The ruling has been given. They said a genocide was conducted against us,” said an elderly man at the shop in Kutupalong, one of nearly three dozen Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar, which has more than one million refugees according to the latest figures released by the UN.

‘Justice served to us’

Mohammad Rasel, 26, remembers he was building haystacks in front of his home in Myanmar’s Maungdaw District when a mob, including local policemen, entered his village in August 2017.

“They fired gunshots and a bullet hit my father and he immediately fell down,” he told Al Jazeera. “All around us were flames and blood-chilling cries of people.”

Rasel’s home was burned. He fled with his brother and mother, leaving his dying father on the yard of their home.

“They killed my father in front of my eyes and I didn’t get any justice for his death,” he said. “This ruling feels like justice has been served to us.”

Abdur Rahim, a 45-year-old Rohingya “majhi” (community leader), also believed “some sort of justice” has been done with the ICJ ruling.

“We are not going to get back the near and dear ones we have lost in that mindless killing spree. No one is going to compensate us for that,” he told Al Jazeera.

“But at least the world has admitted that a heinous crime was conducted against us.”

Rahim hoped the court order will force Myanmar to “stop the atrocities upon our brothers and sisters” still living in Myanmar.

Rohingya Camp 4
Khadija Begum, 40, was raped during the 2017 crackdown and her husband was killed [Faisal Mahmud/Al Jazeera]

‘I am stuck and have nowhere to go’

But others at the camp, such as  Khadija Begum, were not so optimistic following the ICJ order.

Standing in front of her makeshift mud dwelling with a tarpaulin cover, Begum was surrounded by open-pit latrines and the smell of sewage was overpowering.

“They killed my husband and raped me. Those people [the Myanmar army] have no remorse. They will do the same if we go back to Myanmar,” the 40-year-old told Al Jazeera.

“Many people from different countries have been visiting us since we landed in the camp. They promised a lot of things. But the reality is I am stuck here and [don’t] have anywhere to go.”

Mahbub Alam Talukder, the refugees’ relief and repatriation commissioner appointed by Bangladesh, told Al Jazeera the verdict “boosts the morale of Rohingya refugees”.

“For the past two years, they have been telling stories of murders and rapes conducted against them. Now the International Court of Justice stands by their stories and says a genocide had happened,” he said.

When asked if the order will facilitate the repatriation of Rohingya refugees to Myanmar, Talukder said: “Myanmar has already been dilly-dallying and hasn’t showed its honest intention to take back the refugees. It’s hard to assume at this point what consequence this verdict will create on the repatriation process.”

Myanmar ordered to end abuses against Rohingya

‘Moral victory of the humanity’

Imtiaz Ahmed, director of the Centre for Genocide Studies at the University of Dhaka, told Al Jazeera the ICJ ruling was a “landmark”.

Ahmed was at The Hague court in December when the hearings on the Rohingya case began.

“So far, it seems the ICJ has paid heed to the provisional measures sought by [The] Gambia. Now it is up to the Myanmar government to take the measures as per the direction of the ICJ.”

Ahmed said Myanmar has been given four months to report to the court on steps taken to prevent a Rohingya genocide.

“They will be under immense pressure since the whole world is watching now,” he said.

Ali Riaz, distinguished professor of politics and government at Illinois State University in the United States, told Al Jazeera the ICJ order was “a moral victory of the humanity”.

“It has practically proved that Myanmar has committed heinous crimes and is continuing a well-orchestrated policy of genocide against Rohingya,” he said. “It’s also a recognition of the Rohingya community’s existence.”

Riaz said that while ICJ has no mechanism to enforce its ruling on Myanmar, urges the international community to “act now”.

He also asked Bangladesh to launch a “strong diplomatic effort” to convince its “friends like India and China” to pressure Myanmar to ensure the repatriation of refugees “with dignity and safety”.

Source: Al Jazeera