After four decades and countless crimes against humanity later, Myanmar is finally being prosecuted at the International Court of Justice in The Hague
Forty-one years ago, in 1978 an estimated 200,000 Rohingyas were forced to flee their home country Myanmar and take shelter in Cox's Bazaar, Bangladesh. This was a result of a major military crackdown on 'illegal immigration', codenamed Operation Nagamin, or Dragon King, by the Burmese junta.
This was the first wave of Rohingya refugees to enter neighboring Bangladesh. It marked the beginning of a severe, widespread, and systematic violation of human rights against the Rohingya minority of Myanmar.
After four decades and countless crimes against humanity later, Myanmar is finally being prosecuted at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Since 1992, United Nations (UN) documents revealed a range of human rights and humanitarian law violations in Myanmar which went unprosecuted as the global body sat idly on the issue.
Numerous other cases have been reported by the UN and rights bodies of mainly four types of crimes perpetrated in Myanmar: forced displacement of the population, sexual violence, murder, and torture.
The International Human Rights Clinic of Harvard Law School prepared a report by reviewing the four types of crimes that were documented in various UN reports since 2002.
Five jurists of the clinic called on the UN Security Council to urgently establish a commission of inquiry to probe and report on crimes against humanity and war crimes in Myanmar based on the report's findings and recommendations.
More recently, starting in October 2016, tens of thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee Rakhine State after the Myanmar security forces targeted Rohingya women, men, children, and entire villages following attacks on police posts by the then-unknown Rohingya armed group ARSA. The military's subsequent 'clearance operations' were marked by widespread and systematic human rights violations, including killings, rape and other forms of torture, enforced disappearances, and arbitrary detentions.
But Myanmar, as it has done many times before, denied all the allegations.
ARSA crackdown of 2017
Early in the morning of August 25, 2017, a Rohingya armed group known as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched coordinated attacks on security force posts in northern Rakhine State, Myanmar, killing 12 security personnel.
In the days, weeks, and months that followed, the Myanmar security forces, led by the Myanmar Army, attacked the entire Rohingya population in villages across northern Rakhine State.
Beginning of Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh
In the 10 months after August 25, 2017, the Myanmar security forces drove more than 70,000 women, men, and children - more than 80 per cent of the Rohingya who lived in northern Rakhine State at the crisis' outset - into neighboring Bangladesh.
This ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya population was achieved by a relentless and systematic campaign in which the Myanmar security forces killed thousands of Rohingya, including young children; raped and committed other sexual violence against hundreds of Rohingya women and girls; tortured Rohingya men and boys in detention sites; pushed Rohingya communities toward starvation by burning markets and blocking access to farmland; and burned hundreds of Rohingya villages in a targeted and deliberate manner.
Breach of human rights and total impunity
The Myanmar military and a national commission separately launched investigations into the allegations after the 2016 military crackdown of the Rohingya population. Both the parties rejected the findings of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, and issued reports that found almost no wrongdoing.
For the many crimes committed against the Rohingya, the security forces benefited from near total impunity.
Meanwhile, the international community stayed largely silent, with many privately expressing fears that strong condemnation and action might undermine the country's recent transition to a quasi-civilian government after decades of military rule and isolationism.
This impunity and collective silence, particularly since 2012, set the stage for the current crisis.
In the face of mounting criticism from the UN and various governments for the lack of accountability for grave crimes, Myanmar established an Independent Commission of Enquiry in July last year to investigate the alleged human rights violations during the Rohingya crisis, reports Human Rights Watch.
In March 2019, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights reported that following discussions with the Myanmar commission's chair, the High Commissioner was "seriously concerned about the impartiality of the mechanism and whether it can implement its mandate independently."
Last year, the UN issued a damning report into the violence in Myanmar, saying military leaders should go on trial for genocide. The International Criminal Court (ICC) opened a preliminary inquiry into Myanmar's alleged crimes against its Rohingya Muslim minority at the same time.
However, the Buddhist-majority country will tomorrow be subjected to prosecution as per allegations brought against Myanmar by the tiny West African state Gambia – accusing the state of genocide against the minority through a lawsuit filed on November 11 this year.
But the fact that Myanmar has not signed up to the ICC complicates the legal case, and no charges have been filed yet.
At the same time, the Myanmar administration of Aung San Suu Kyi, again, denied its troops carried out such crimes.
With the exposure of the Rohingya issue worldwide, Suu Kyi has drifted away from her ideological beliefs of being the people's friend to being a fiend.
Myanmar's de-facto leader has dropped her façade of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression, and has revealed her true nature as she defends the same military that once put her under house arrest for 15 years.
But with time running out for Suu Kyi, she has miles to go before she can prove the accusations of militancy, genocide, rape, ethnic cleansing, among others, as just allegations tomorrow to the ICJ.