Atrocities against Rohingyas: Tula Toli victims ask ICC judges to allow investigation

Atrocities against Rohingyas: Tula Toli victims ask ICC judges to allow investigation Humayun Kabir Bhuiyan
File photo: Rohingya people line up to be interviewed for the repatriation to Myanmar outside the office of the camp-in-charge in Shalbagan refugee camp, Cox’s Bazar on Wednesday, August 21, 2019 Syed Zakir Hossain/Dhaka Tribune

Crimes committed against Rohingyas in Bangladesh should also be taken into cognizance, say lawyers for 86 victims in a 32-page submission to the ICC

A total 86 Rohingya victims of the Tula Toli massacre carried out by Myanmar military at the end of August, 2017, have asked judges of the International Criminal Court (ICC) to allow Fatou Bensouda, the ICC prosecutor, to launch an investigation into the atrocities against them.

In a 32-page submission to the ICC judges, two legal representatives from London also said that the crimes committed against the Rohingyas in Bangladesh should be taken into account for investigation.

The Tula Toli massacre was a mass-killing of Rohingya people that occurred during a Myanmar army clearance operation in the village of Tula Toli (also known as Min Gyi) in Maungdaw township of Rakhine state, near the Bangladesh–Myanmar border. According to eyewitnesses, Myanmar soldiers carried out the massacre with the support of Rakhine locals, killing at least 200 women and 300 children.

On July 4, the ICC prosecutor requested authorization from a pre-trial court comprising three judges, to initiate an investigation into crimes against the civilian Rohingya population in Myanmar since at least October 9, 2016.

In accordance with the ICC’s legal framework, the victims of the crimes committed against the Rohingya population in Myanmar have the right to submit their views, concerns and expectations, to the judges, who are considering the prosecutor’s request.

Of the 86 Tula Toli victims, 45 are women, 32 are men, and 9 are children (6 girls and 3 boys).

“The scope of the investigation must encompass all potential perpetrators. The Tatmadaw must be the primary focus, but others facilitating their crimes must also be subject to scrutiny. So too must officials of Bangladesh, and the agencies supporting them, whose conduct increasingly resembles ill-treatment designed to effect unsafe repatriation,” said the document obtained by Dhaka Tribune.

“The Court should seek to deter these potential crimes by confirming that they are within the scope of the investigation,” it said.

Gravity is assessed by reference not only to qualitative and quantitative aspects of the acts and their impacts, but also the level of responsibility of likely suspects. Evidence collected by the United Nations fact-finding mission suggests that responsibility rests at the highest levels of the Myanmar military. The crimes were qualitatively and quantitatively horrific. Rohingyas were killed, subjected to extreme physical and sexual violence, and arbitrarily detained based on their ethnicity. Hundreds of thousands were severely harmed, communities were destroyed, and thousands remain in Bangladesh on Tuesday.

History has shown that the cycle of persecution and atrocities against the Rohingyas in Myanmar will not end without accountability. The Tula Toli victims strongly support the opening of an investigation, even if cooperation challenges cause significant delays in the issue of warrants and/or arrest of suspects. An investigation is important because it creates the possibility of accountability; if there is no ICC investigation, individual criminal responsibility will remain impossible.

Similarly, the issue of arrest warrants is of value even if arrests are delayed or never occur, because it provides recognition that there are “reasonable grounds to believe” that an individual has committed a crime within the court’s jurisdiction.

The interests of justice require the scope of the investigation to be broad. The Tula Toli victims emphasise that while criminal accountability is vital, it is not the only form of “justice”. Justice also entails acknowledgment of the extent of the crimes, and proactive deterrence of future ones, so as to ensure that the victims can live now and into the future in safe and humane conditions, free from persecution.

The submission of the victims also mentioned restrictions Rohingyas are facing in the camps in Bangladesh, including on freedom of movement. Deprivation of education and other rights, lack of access to telecommunication, and relocation to Bhasan Char were also mentioned.