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Diary from Rohingya Refugee Camp

26 Dec 2017
Diary from Rohingya Refugee Camp

By Yvonne Ridley

WELL it seems your President Donald Trump and I have found some common ground, at last!

POTUS has just imposed sanctions on a Myanmar general accused of leading an ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya people.

I cheered loudly at the news from my bunker in Cox's Bizar where I am spending the next few days talking to Rohingya refugees stuck in a plastic and bamboo tent city on the Myanmar border with Bangladesh.

I knew this journey would be an emotional one but until you sit down with some of the Rohingya refugees and talk about their flight from persecution and tyranny it is difficult to imagine this horrific journey from the dark side.

Today I was given a glimpse of man's inhumanity to man, a peek inside the satanic world of violence, brutality and cruelty endured by a people who have been targeted for no other reason than their belief in Islam. Witness after witness took me back to August of this year when the Monsters of Myanmar unleashed a living hell on some of the most gentle people on earth.

Yvonne Ridley with refugees in one of the Rohingya camps

Eyes welled with salty tears as fragile Rohingya women and men recounted their nightmare journey. The tears came from those telling their stories, those listening and translating their stories and those taking their testimony to use one day in a court of justice.

So you can imagine the joy caused on hearing General Maung Maung Soe has been blacklisted by the US over human rights and corruption allegations.

Myanmar's military says it is fighting Rohingya militants and denies targeting civilians. Having listened to stories of rape, murder and brutality today, I call these military leaders liars and invite them to come and sue me in a court of their choosing.

We can exchange writs! Why they might sue for defamation, I might be able to serve papers on them citing scores and scores of war crimes.

The UN has described the military offensive in Rakhine as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing" but it needs to go further.

Today has been harrowing and tomorrow will be worse as I continue to work with an all woman team of lawyers from South Africa who jetted out to Bangladesh a few days ago to spearhead a ground-breaking legal mission to bring these war criminals to justice.

Everyone from Shaida Mahomed, an advocate of the high court of the Republic of South Africa, to Tasneem Fredericks, attorney, notary public and conveyancer and human rights advocate Shabnam Mayet are determined to deliver justice to the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees now living on the border near Myanmar.

This unique enterprise is aimed at bringing those who have committed war crimes and genocide against the minority Muslim community to trial.

Lawyer Shabnam Mayet, who set up Protect the Rohingya campaign several years ago, is undaunted by the fact the United Nations is still slow to act against the genocide of the Rohingya people. She is equally determined to set in place, the essential building bricks needed to prepare a case against those suspected of war crimes.

From day one, the all-woman legal team has been in the camps taking witness statements from early morning until late afternoon before heading back to their hotel to prepare affidavits on behalf of the victims. It is a slow, painstaking procedure but if justice is to be delivered it first must be served on those suspected of committing atrocities.

The scale of the persecution and ethnic cleansing is breathtaking and the stories told are horrific. It is painful for some to retrace their steps but their eye witness accounts and graphic detail are needed to pursue the criminals through the courts.

Ideally those suspected of war crimes should be prosecuted in the International Criminal Courts, but until the UN finds a collective backbone Mayet and her legal friends are not prepared to stand by and wait.

There are several legal options open to Mayet who is confident other lawyers around the world will join forces to make it difficult for the Monsters of Myanmar to travel without fear of arrest and prosecution.

Fredericks and Ridley with legal dossier outlining war crimes aganist Rohingya refugees

"Witness statements are important as they are the first step to launching any legal proceedings," says Mayet from Johannesburg. "Our aim is to simplify taking legal action for activist lawyers around the world who want to engage in lawfare by making our statements available to those working in their national jurisdictions and beyond who want to make a case for crimes against the Rohingya," she added.

Salaamedia Foundation's work with Protect the Rohingya and  the International Relief Organisation (IRO) appears to be the first initiative of its kind on the ground in the refugee camps at the moment but any law firms who want to join the legal team or US lawyers who want to get involved should contact Shabzym@gmail.com in the first instance.

 -Sister Yvonne Ridley is an author and journalist living in the UK. Her latest books is called TORTURE: Does it work? Interrogation issues and effectiveness in the Global War on Terror. You can order a copy here: https://www.amazon.com/Torture-Interrogation-issues-effectiveness-Global-x/dp/1782668306 

 * If you want to book Yvonne Ridley for an event please contact info@1stwitness.com

 

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