The International Criminal Court on Tuesday dismissed a petition that sought holdings of hearing in Bangladesh instead of the seat of the court, The Hague, on cases over atrocities committed against minority Rohingya people of Myanmar.
The court has considered conditions, including the COVID-19 pandemic, among other issues, while making the decision to dismiss the plea, according to an ICC document available at its website on Wednesday.
‘It would be unproductive to request the [ICC] Registry to conduct a more extensive assessment of the possibilities of holding hearings in Bangladesh or other locations in the region,’ judges Olga Herrera Carbuccia, Robert Fremr and Geoffrey Henderson of the ICC’s pre-trial chamber –III said in the decision.
The court noted that as long as COVID-19-related restrictions remained in place, ‘the Registry’s ability to operate in Bangladesh remains limited’.
The influence of the pandemic on the court’s ability to conduct proceedings in Bangladesh ‘is also exceedingly difficult to predict,’ the court said, adding that ‘the Chamber will keep the possibility of conducting certain procedural steps in situ under review.’
Three legal teams representing groups of approximately 650 alleged victims of the situation in Rakhine of Myanmar filed a request on August 4 concerning hearings outside the Hague.
They petitioners argued that holding hearings outside the host state of the ICC ‘is appropriate’ as it would facilitate the presentation of evidence.
In particular, the applicants sought an order from the court seeking to direct the Registry to prepare an assessment of potential venues for the holding of proceedings in a state other than the host state within reasonable physical proximity of the affected population.
The applicants also argued that the establishment of an ICC field office ‘is necessary’ in order to ensure effective communication with victims living in different refugee camps in Bangladesh.
They claimed that holding proceedings locally would mitigate the difficulties that would arise from having to transport witnesses to The Hague, a process that is said to be stressful and sometimes traumatising for the witnesses, many of whom are alleged to be stateless.
The ICC prosecution opposed the idea of shifting the seat of the court to Bangladesh stating that it could risk the integrity and independence of the prosecutions in conducting the investigations.
The court, however, did not accept arguments from the prosecutor that the victims at this stage could not ‘trigger’ the exercise of the court’s power to make a recommendation to change the seat of the court.
Some 860,000 Rohingyas, mostly women, children and aged people, entered Bangladesh fleeing unbridled murder, arson and rape during ‘security operations’ by the Myanmar military in Rakhine, what the United Nations denounced as ethnic cleansing and genocide, beginning from August 25, 2017.
The latest Rohingya influx has taken the number of undocumented Myanmar nationals and registered refugees in Bangladesh to over 1.2 million, according to estimates by UN agencies and Bangladesh foreign ministry.
A lawsuit is pending with the International Court of Justice, also situated in The Hague, on allegations that the military-controlled Myanmar government was responsible for genocide against minority Rohingya people.
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