After yesterday’s critique of press credibility brought forward by the Bangladeshi defence in the presence of a New York Times journalist, I am looking forward to Day 3 of ICC discussions on the fate of the Rohingya people. In these negotiations, parties should not forget the urgency of the situation for thousands of Rohingya people currently living in refugee camps in Bangladesh; many of them have been arrested, abused and allegedly even coerced to relocate to the remote and natural disaster-prone island of Bhasan Char, which was not yet declared safe for human life when the first Rohingya refugees were sent there at the end of 2020. However, the prosecution during a cross-examination of the High Commissioner of Refugees yesterday, chose to focus instead on the language used in general UN reports instead of using his limited time to further substantiate his line of argumentation.
So let us hope that this time, the defence will not lecture us press correspondents about credibility and professionalism, but instead focus on the crucial issue at hand: the alleged crimes committed under Bangladeshi home minister Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal against the Rohingya people. The Rohingya deserve to be treated with respect while they are seeking refuge in Myanmar’s neighbouring countries, desperately waiting to return to their home region once conditions will finally allow it. Yet, many reports published over the last years indicate the contrary; Rohingya men, women and children are mistreated in their host countries, whether it is in Bangladesh or, closer to our Rappler headquarters, in Malaysia and Indonesia.
I enter the courtroom. The prosecution is speaking. “The witnesses the defense presented were just off-topic” is the first thing I hear. The room is quiet, only the speaker’s voice is ringing through the room. The formal language and the calm pace with which the attendees bring forward their points do not seem to make justice to the urgency and gravity of such an important humanitarian issue. Each day thousands of Rohingya are affected by the current situation, how can the attendees in this court remain so calm? Yet, perhaps it is this calmness that is needed to restore order and justice in such a serious matter.
The prosecution brings forward their arguments: All the acts that are being discussed in this court have been committed by officers and members of the police force while in their official capacities, while they were acting under the law. According to the speaker, Bangladeshi home Minister Kamal either knew of the events taking place, o the basis of reports that were published, or, at least should have known. Either way, it seems like the minister failed in his official duties to “provide security to life and property” within Bangladesh and to supervise the units linked to his ministry, such as the police forces, immigration offices and refugee camps.
To these statements, the defense of Minister Kamal replies that the prosecution is bringing forward isolated events. The authorities in Bangladesh allegedly work hard to ensure “that each and every officer is trained to the highest standard”, in cooperation with UN training programs for instance. The defense emphasises: “This is not a systematic problem that can be pinned on Mr. Kamal”.
I do not have the necessary legal or professional experience to play judge in this courtroom. However, to me as a journalist, the unfair treatment of Rohingya people very much seems like a systematic problem, given the sheer amount of reports which show that the mistreatment of the Rohingya in Myanmar’s neighbouring countries is not only an isolated accident. So let us hope that the judges will soon make a just decision to finally bring the case around Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal to a close and open the doors to addressing the humanitarian issues that thousands of Rohingya are currently facing.
- Ophelia L. Smiths, Freelance Correspondent for Rappler