An all-woman team has been collating the witness statements of 50 Rohingya refugees, to set in motion a global campaign to bring the Myanmar’s military to justice for ethnic cleansing and genocide.
On Sunday, Christmas Eve in many parts of the world, the affidavits containing harrowing stories were officially processed and can now be accessed by international lawyers pursuing Myanmar’s suspected war criminals in their respective jurisdictions.
Headed by advocate Shabnam Mayet from Johannesburg, the co-founder of campaign group Protect the Rohingya, the team consisted of South African advocate Shaida Mahomed of Johannesburg, attorney Tasneem Fredericks of Port Elizabeth and journalist Yvonne Ridley from Jedburgh in Scotland.
“We were bracing ourselves for some heart-rending accounts but nothing prepared us for what we heard, every person we met has seen the worst brutality being unleashed on their loved ones.“ said Mayet.
Mahomed added: “This is a serious indictment on the leaders of this world and their governments. All the Rohingya people ask for is their basic sense of belonging.”
Fredericks added: “The identity and dignity of the Rohingya hangs by a thread unless the world does something. After what I’ve heard these last few days I don’t understand the United Nations’ intransigence to call it what it is: genocide!” Ridley said: “I was deeply humbled by the dignity of these people and horrified by what they told me. This is a giant stain on humanity in the 21st century.”
Both Rohingya men and women were interviewed from various villages, further confirming the systematic and methodical manner in which the Myanmar military perpetrated the most brutal atrocities against a civilian population. From the testimonies it was apparent that in some instances Rakhine buddhists assisted the military and even stabbed people who were still alive after they had been shot. These were identified by the victims as their Rakhine buddhist neighbours.
The lawyers listened for three days as victims from Showap Parag ( Choot Pyin), Tola Toli (Min Gyi Ywa) ,Arng Darng (Inn Din) recounted their narratives of the events. They shared the horrific accounts of gang rape , arson attacks on villages , slaughter of family members and loss of their land and belongings.
To date 800 000 Rohingya have fled into Bangladesh where they do not have refugee status and discussions of repatriation are underway.
Mayet says a full report will be published towards the end of next month. This was only the preliminary step , there is still much to be done and the team is hopeful other international human rights lawyers will contact Protect the Rohingya and use the database to bring cases in their own jurisdictions. Lawfare is one more tool we can utilise in the fight against oppression and injustice.
For this project, the team partnered with the International Relief Organisation based in Germany and was assisted by Bangladeshi volunteer and academic activist Reza Rehman Lenin. This project was partially funded by the Media Review Network and Salamedia both based in South Africa.
Protect the Rohingya is an awareness group which began in July 2012 with the aim of creating awareness on the plight of the Rohingya.
For more, visit Twitter: @ProtectRohingya or Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/groups/308153155947556/