Paths to Justice
Paths to Justice
Hasina Begum
Yousuf Ali
Hamida Khatun

Paths to Justice

The stories of the Rohingya that fled the military’s attacks in Myanmar repeat the same horrendous experiences:
killings, rape, torture, the burning of homes and villages.


Get to know three survivors involved in the global justice efforts.



The widespread, brutal sexual violence - which often took place in public or in front of family members - has been highlighted by legal experts as evidence of genocidal intent. There can never be any legitimate reason for it, and the perpetrators would have understood the impact on the Rohingya community.

Attacks on children, who represent the future existence of the Rohingya, further underline an aim not just to harm or displace the Rohingya, but to destroy the community itself.

Yousuf Ali
Hasina Begum
Hamida Khatun

Yousuf Ali, survivor

“They even raped men.”

Hasina Begum, survivor

“They killed my husband, my brother, my uncle. They took me and 50 other women to rape in a school. Only five of us survived. They killed the rest of the women.”

Hamida Khatun, survivor

“Our houses were burnt down, they raped women and killed the children and husbands. They evicted us from our houses and forced us to come to Bangladesh.”

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The widespread, brutal sexual violence - which often took place in public or in front of family members - has been highlighted by legal experts as evidence of genocidal intent. There can never be any legitimate reason for it, and the perpetrators would have understood the impact on the Rohingya community.


Attacks on children, who represent the future existence of the Rohingya, further underline an aim not just to harm or displace the Rohingya, but to destroy the community itself.

Since August 2017 more than 740,000 people have been forced to flee from Myanmar to Bangladesh, where around 160,000 Rohingya refugees were already living, having suffered persecution in their country dating back to the 1970s.

Hasina Begum

Hasina Begum, survivor

Hasina was raped and tortured by the Myanmar military, and her brother and husband were killed in front of her. She fled with her young children to Bangladesh. Hasina is now gaining increasing experience in advocacy, speaking about her experiences and calling for justice. She has travelled to The Hague to attend the International Court of Justice emergency hearings and is part of the women’s survivor group, Shanti Mohila (“Peace Women”), in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh.

“I went to The Hague to tell my story. I wanted to tell the whole world. Sooner or later we will get justice. The whole world has heard us and one day we’ll be able to go back to our country peacefully.”

Hamida Khatun

Hamida Khatun, survivor

After fleeing Myanmar, Hamida is actively pursuing justice for her people. She is the informal leader of the women’s survivor group, Shanti Mohila, helping gather testimonials as evidence. Given that Hamida is a widow in her fifties, it is socially acceptable in her community for her to speak out and engage in public life. She too travelled to The Hague to attend the International Court of Justice emergency hearings. It was there that she says she experienced a community without ethnic or gender discrimination for the first time.

“What I experienced is that men and women are all equal. There is no discrimination. People from different communities also live side by side. Together they can go to the court, they can seek justice, they can walk on the street.”

Yousuf Ali

Yousuf Ali, survivor

As a community leader in his country Yousuf had to engage with authorities and the military. He was arrested, detained, and tortured, including sexualized torture, by the Myanmar military. He was forced to flee after soldiers attacked his village in 2017. He is now part of the men’s survivor group in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh and travelled to The Hague to attend the International Court of Justice emergency hearings.

“The International support for us, the Rohingya, is very important. Without this we wouldn’t be able to move on. We wouldn’t be able to build our lives again.”

SEEKING JUSTICE

Three Rohingya survivors, Hasina, Hamida and Yousuf, who now live in a camp in Cox’s Bazar, are focused on justice and looking to the future, despite everything they have been through.

Bangladesh
Cox’s Bazar
Myanmar

And not only that – they are an active part of pursuing justice for their people, their families and themselves. In 2019, they travelled to The Hague to sit on the legal delegation attending the International Court of Justice emergency hearings on provisional measures.

As paths to justice for the Rohingya have emerged, Justice Rapid Response and Legal Action Worldwide (which represents more than 500 Rohingya clients) are among organizations contributing to the array of legal cases to hold perpetrators accountable.

MECHANISMS OF JUSTICE

The West African Republic of The Gambia has brought a dispute before the International Court of Justice alleging that Myanmar breached its obligations under the Genocide Convention. This major legal process - taken on in the interests of victims in another state - is unusual in that the countries are so geographically far from one another. Other states such as the Netherlands and Canada have since indicated their intention to join The Gambia's case.

The Gambia
The Gambia
The Gambia's Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou

The Gambia's Justice Minister at the time Abubacarr Tambadou speaks at the International Court of Justice next to Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Unique in the quest for justice for the Rohingya is the multitude of avenues that opened so shortly after the UN Fact-Finding Mission’s final report – all starting in the month of November 2019. That same month, the International Criminal Court opened an investigation on crimes against humanity, such as deportation and persecution, allegedly committed against the Rohingya population.

Yousuf

Yousuf says the support for his people and the filing of such cases is
extremely significant for him personally and for his community.

“If The Gambia didn’t do that the whole world would never have come to know about us. Because of The Gambia now the world has understood our suffering.”

When everyone finds out about the oppression against us they can come together and stand by us,” he says.

“That’s why it is important that the world hears the Rohingya voices and knows our stories.”

“In the absence of local accountability processes, harnessing international justice mechanisms is often the only manner that the stories of victims can be told,” says Federica Tronchin, Head of the International Justice Programme at Justice Rapid Response.

“Having impartial and multilateral investigations is an important way to create a trusted record that can make it into the history of that victim, community and country,” she says.

“Truth-seeking is part of justice itself.”

The Hague

Both the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court processes are among the first international justice proceedings pertaining to the Rohingya. While the two processes focus on different legal issues, both are crucial to secure accountability for past crimes and human rights violations, as well as to ensure the same conduct is not repeated in the future.

Civil society organizations have petitioned courts in Argentina to also open an investigation under the principle of universal jurisdiction, which allows a national court to prosecute individuals in another country for serious crimes against international law. If accepted, this would be the first time a case related to Myanmar is considered by a national court under the principle of universal jurisdiction.

The International Court of Justice

The International Court of Justice holds a public hearing on the provisional measures request submitted by The Gambia.

“It is important that every avenue possible is explored to give victims a chance at justice,” says Federica.

“When something so massive happens to a population there are not enough justice and redress avenues and there are no perfect systems.”

The Hague

International Court of Justice International Criminal Court

Geneva

International Fact-Finding
Mission on Myanmar
Independent Investigative
Mechanism for Myanmar

The Gambia

The Gambia has brought
charges of genocide against Myanmar
at the International Court of Justice

Buenos Aires

Argentina, Universal Jurisdiction

The Hague
The Hague
Myanmar
Myanmar
Buenos Aires
The Hague
The Hague
Myanmar
Myanmar
Buenos Aires

International
Court of Justice

The Gambia filed a case against Myanmar before the International Court of Justice in November 2019 alleging that the crimes against the Rohingya violate the Genocide Convention, of which Myanmar has been a party since 1956. This state-to-state litigation is governed by legal provisions in the UN Charter, the International Court of Justice Statute and the Genocide Convention. The Gambia also requested provisional urgent measures to prevent “irreparable harm” to the Rohingya while the court goes through written submissions and hearings before ruling (a process that will take years). The court granted these provisional measures in January 2020, upholding that while its work is underway, Myanmar must take steps to prevent further genocidal acts, as well as to preserve evidence.

International
Criminal Court

In November 2019, the International Criminal Court authorized an investigation into Myanmar for crimes including – but not limited to – crimes against humanity allegedly committed against the Rohingya population. Given that Bangladesh, unlike Myanmar, is party to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court, the investigation only covers crimes against Rohingya that took place on Bangladeshi territory. In this instance, the forcible displacement of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh, as a result of alleged coercive acts, could qualify as crimes against humanity of deportation and persecution on grounds of ethnicity or religion.

International Fact-Finding
Mission on Myanmar

In March 2017, the UN Human Rights Council created the Fact-Finding Mission to establish the facts and circumstances of the alleged human rights violations by military and security forces in Myanmar. In its September 2019 report to the Human Rights Council, the Fact-Finding Mission concluded that “the Rohingya people remain at serious risk of genocide under the terms of the Genocide Convention”.

Independent Investigative
Mechanism for Myanmar

Based on the Fact-Finding Mission’s initial reports, the Human Rights Council established the Independent Investigative Mechanism on Myanmar to build cases against individuals for the most serious international crimes. The Human Rights Council called for “close and timely cooperation between the mechanism and any future investigations by national, regional or international courts or tribunals, including by the ICC or the ICJ” (res 43/26). All information gathered by the Fact-Finding Mission was transmitted to the mechanism, which became operational in August 2019.

Argentina,
Universal Jurisdiction

The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) in November 2019 petitioned Argentine courts to open an investigation into the role of Myanmar's civilian and military leaders in committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya. Along with Latin American human rights organizations, including the Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo, BROUK petitioned the court to open the case under the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction.

GATHERING EVIDENCE

The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar investigators were among the first to talk to Rohingya victims and witnesses in Cox’s Bazar. Justice Rapid Response contributed several experts to the Fact-Finding Mission, helping to flag the high levels of sexual violence in the conflict, as well as to identify the role of Myanmar’s military, including its economic interests and international commercial links.


The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar was established to follow up on the work of the Fact-Finding Mission by preserving and analyzing existing evidence for use in future criminal proceedings.

Hamida

Following the recommendations of the Fact-Finding Mission, Legal Action Worldwide – with the support of Justice Rapid Response – started working with and training survivor advocate groups in Cox’s Bazar so that Rohingya people could meaningfully participate in the international justice processes. It worked with the women’s survivor group Shanti Mohila (“Peace Women”), whose members then collected 400 thumb prints to deliver to the International Criminal Court.

Hasina
Yousuf

Antonia Mulvey, Executive Director of Legal Action Worldwide, says that while the involvement of survivors in international legal proceedings has previously been overlooked, there is growing recognition that in order for international justice processes to be effective they must include the voices of survivors.

Hamida, Yousuf, Antonia, Hasina

“Without a meaningful justice process, which includes the active participation of the Rohingya and the inclusion of their views, there cannot be any lasting solution to the Rohingya crisis,” she says.

“Justice is essential for peace in Myanmar.”

“Whatever the outcome, Legal Action Worldwide has found that Rohingya who have been able to engage in and contribute to the justice proceedings have transitioned from victim to survivor, and in many cases into advocates for their communities,” says Antonia.

TELLING THEIR OWN STORIES

Hasina, Hamida, Yousuf and other survivors’ stories are part of a growing body of evidence – gathered by Legal Action Worldwide with the support of Justice Rapid Response – contributing to international justice processes.


Hasina says travelling to The Hague and participating in the justice process first-hand has given her a new sense of personal peace. She has also been able to reassure her community that they have been heard.


“We will get justice in the end through the court processes and we’ll be able to return home to Myanmar,” she says. “Sooner or later – even if it takes five years or ten years, we will get our justice.”

Hasina

Seeing Aung San Suu Kyi, who was – until a military coup on 1 February 2021 – at the helm of their country, in court and hearing her deny the genocide in Myanmar was stirring for the three Rohingya.

“Suu Kyi, as the leader – someone like a king or like our parents - she lied in the court,” says Hamida. “She favoured all other communities but not us, the Rohingya. She lied and that made me so upset.”

The military coup – in which Suu Kyi was imprisoned – is likely to worsen the situation for minorities, including the Rohingya, in Myanmar. But remembering their visit to The Hague is uplifting for the survivors.

“In Myanmar, they discriminated against us, the Rohingya.
But there was no such discrimination in The Hague,” says Hasina.

She recalls the sense of equality she felt during her visit. “Even though we were nobody they pulled us close to their hearts.”

LOOKING AHEAD

Wide international support for the justice processes underscores the condemnation of the treatment of the Rohingya. It also highlights the importance of international mechanisms in supporting the rule of law when a country fails to hold those responsible for serious crimes and human rights violations accountable at a national level.


International justice mechanisms are critical to achieving change in Myanmar. It is also important that the international community urge for change – so that the country’s governance and legal framework ensure that the rights of all minorities are fully realized, to secure lasting peace and further democratic development.

Hamida

On behalf of their communities, Hamida, Yousuf and Hasina are calling for the safe return to their country and homes, and accountability for those responsible for the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people.

“I want to give the world this message: we want to go back to our country with our rights, full citizenship and security,” says Hamida.

“In the future I hope that there will be no discrimination against our community,
no discrimination against our religion, no discrimination at all,”
says Hasina.

“I want to tell the world that justice should be done and our rights should be given back to us.
What has happened can’t be undone but it should be guaranteed that it will not happen again.”

Justice Rapid Response

Justice Rapid Response is the only global facility that provides rapidly deployable specialized justice experts to assist with investigations of reported war crimes, genocide, crimes against humanity, and serious human rights violations.

Legal Action Worldwide

Legal Action Worldwide works towards equality of all before the law and to deliver access to justice to those who need it most – victims and survivors of human rights violations and abuses in conflict-affected and fragile environments.