One Year On - the Tragedy and Silence of No Man's Land
Reflecting on No Man's Land One Year After its Destruction
Today, 18 January 2024, marks the first anniversary of the tragic destruction of No Man's Land, a refugee settlement at the Tombru border post between Myanmar and Bangladesh. The Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) launched a brutal assault on the settlement. The attack resulted in the expulsion of thousands of Rohingya, the deaths of several refugees, and the complete destruction of their temporary homes.
This incident was not isolated but followed a raid by Bangladesh special forces in November 2022, under the guise of a narcotics operation.
A leaked document from Myanmar's Home Affairs Ministry, dated 23 December 2022, unveiled the motivations behind the secret operation. It revealed that the Myanmar military and Bangladesh forces had collaborated in an effort to neutralise the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA). This cooperation was the military operation against ARSA in the No Man’s Land settlement.
You can read the details in my article here : Myanmar Bangladesh joint offensive cracks down on Rohingya
I wrote to the Office of the Prosecution of the International Criminal Court (ICC) last year asking if they will investigate. The preamble to my question was this:
According to the ICC’s 'Scope of the investigation': - The OTP can investigate any crime, including potential future crimes. - For these crimes to be investigated, they must fall under the ICC's jurisdiction, be committed at least partly on Bangladeshi territory (or territories of other State Parties), be linked to the described situation, and have occurred on or after 1 June 2010 for Bangladesh.
The ICC’s response to my inquiry about investigating the incidents in No Man's Land reveals a clear reluctance to expand their current focus. They told me that their investigation is primarily concerned with events in Myanmar, specifically those leading to the Rohingya exodus to Bangladesh in 2016 and 2017. They highlight that chargeable crimes within the Bangladesh/Myanmar situation are limited to those with a cross-border element, such as the crime against humanity of deportation
Their answers included this passage:
The focus of the Bangladesh/Myanmar investigation, as authorised by Pre-Trial Chamber III, remains upon the events in Rakhine State, Myanmar, and what brought the Rohingya people to Bangladesh in 2016 and 2017, in particular. We remain firmly committed to our ongoing investigation in this situation.
The decision not to investigate the events of No Man's Land, despite falling under the ICC's mandate, appears to stem from Prosecutor Karim Khan's diplomatic balancing act and his overly accommodating approach towards Bangladesh.
Khan's recent visit to Bangladesh, rather than addressing the pressing issues faced by the Rohingya, seemed more like a diplomatic charm offensive. He notably overlooked critical concerns such as the unsafe repatriation plans, which include elements of coercion, and the disturbing events in No Man's Land, an evident case of deportation. Instead, he opted to spotlight matters that resonate with Bangladesh's official narrative, particularly the WFP ration cuts, while conveniently bypassing the more contentious and crucial aspects of the Rohingya crisis.
Indeed, in a podcast at the Oslo Forum he took pride in saying “I have not issued preventative statements to the extent of my predecessor and it's a function of my view that I'm not an activist.” Some could argue that his focus on less contentious issues like the WFP ration cuts, seems to align more with being an activist for the state of Bangladesh rather than an impartial investigator of the ICC.
Khan's strategy is undoubtedly aimed at fostering good relations with Bangladesh, an essential ally for the ICC's operations. However, this approach brings with it the risk of narrowing the ICC's broader investigatory mandate. By aligning too closely with a narrative that might compromise the welfare of the Rohingya, Khan risks undermining the ICC's role in delivering impartial justice and addressing the full spectrum of the Rohingya's dire situation.
The case of Dil Mohammed
Today is also the first anniversary of the disappearance and arbitrary detention of Dil Mohammed, a key No Man's Land spokesperson and advocate. His ordeal started with a kidnapping by the Rohingya Solidarity Organisation (RSO) on January 18th, soon after the chaos and ruin that engulfed the No Man’s Land encampment. Transferred to Bangladesh’s Rapid Action Battalion (RAB) , he was only formally jailed months later. This sequence of events blatantly violated Bangladesh's legal standard that no individual should be detained beyond 24 hours without a court appearance.
To date, Dil Mohammed has been brought before the court eight times. Astonishingly, despite his international prominence, there has been a complete lack of press coverage surrounding his case. This is a very concerning silence on this significant issue.
It's imperative that Dil Mohammed's case receives the attention of the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention. Should any of my readers have advice or means to facilitate this, please kindly get in touch.
To conclude this article, I want to share with you the translation of an audio message I received yesterday from someone who previously lived in the "Zero Point" or No Man's Land Camp.
“It's a massive injustice. People were burned alive. Many have been scattered, with no word on many of them. Homes were torched, lives shattered. This atrocity didn't even happen on Bangladesh's land, but on Myanmar's. Now, many are struggling to survive. Their few belongings were destroyed in locked shelters, and there was rampant destruction and looting. Yet, despite all this, there’s been no investigation, no team on the ground. Our genocide continues, unwitnessed. How can this be ignored? Surely, this cries out for attention, Sir. Isn't it time to shed light on this atrocity?”