How cell telephones might be they key to justice for the Rohingya


A gaggle of 20 refugees wait patiently to see him. They’re among the many nearly a million Rohingya who dwell on this sprawling makeshift metropolis that final yr quickly grew to become the world’s largest refugee camp.

“I haven’t got a set revenue,” the self-taught repairman and Rohingya refugee says whereas fixing an previous Nokia handset.

“Right here, all are refugees. I take charges from the individuals who can afford it and work at no cost for individuals who cannot,” mentioned Anowar, who solely goes by one identify.

Lots of the telephones he repairs had been introduced into Bangladesh from Anowar’s native Rakhine state in Myanmar, the place greater than 700,000 Muslim Rohingya — together with Anowar — have fled violence since August 2017.

The cell telephones are a valuable lifeline that enable Rohingya to be in contact with family and friends scattered throughout the camps. In lots of instances, all that continues to be from their lives in Myanmar is footage of their houses and villages saved on telephones.

The gadgets, crucially, additionally comprise movies and images that might function proof in efforts to carry the perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable — many Rohingya used their telephones to doc the horrors that pressured them to flee.

“Most people have photos of injured individuals,” Anowar advised me. “Some have photos or movies of members of the family attacked.”

Anowar’s restore store is one in every of many scattered across the camps on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border. There’s doubtlessly a trove of visible knowledge taking over valued area on individuals’s telephones, or trapped in damaged gadgets.

Important process

Preserving the info on these telephones ought to be an important process within the push for justice and accountability. Social media, video and photographic proof can play an important position in bringing justice for victims of genocide and crimes towards humanity.

In a ground-breaking case in 2017, the Worldwide Prison Court docket (ICC) issued an arrest warrant for Mahmoud al-Werfalli — a commander within the Libyan Nationwide Military — who’s accused of murdering dozens of individuals in Benghazi.
The warrant, for assaults carried out between June 2016 and July 2017, relies largely on video evidence collected from social media. Additionally in 2015, a Swedish court convicted a Syrian national of war crimes based mostly, partially, on video proof posted on Fb.
Rohingya refugees wait to get their mobile phones charged at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh's Ukhia district on October 7, 2017.
In a recent investigation, Fortify Rights uncovered how Myanmar authorities systematically deliberate for mass atrocities towards Rohingya civilians, which amounted to genocide and crimes towards humanity.

These findings are according to a report by the U.N. Reality-Discovering Mission printed this week, which referred to as for senior generals to be prosecuted for genocide, crimes towards humanity and struggle crimes.

Dozens of Rohingya survivors and eyewitnesses advised me and my colleagues about assaults by the army earlier than and after August 25, and the proof is captured on their telephones. Footage consists of burning homes, mutilated our bodies, bloodstained soil, severed heads, mass evictions and displacement, and eyewitness testimonials.

This implies there’s a digital sea of video and photographic proof of crimes — doubtlessly offering investigators with helpful proof to prosecute perpetrators.

For many Rohingya, all that remains of their lives in Myanmar is images and video stored on their phones.

Silenced by authorities

Myanmar’s army has repeatedly denied that it intentionally attacked unarmed Rohingya, and that what it phrases “clearance operations,” had been a response to assaults by terrorists.

Nonetheless, refugees have repeatedly advised journalists, human rights teams, and researchers that Myanmar troopers massacred males, ladies, and youngsters, razed lots of of villages, and systematically raped ladies and ladies.

The Myanmar authorities know the ability of knowledge, communication, and visible proof and have performed every little thing of their energy to stop Rohingya from accessing cell telephones.

Anowar has few tools to repair the phones but the devices may contain videos and photographs that could serve as evidence in efforts to hold the perpetrators of mass atrocities accountable.

Rakhine State just isn’t a straightforward place to personal a cell phone — no less than not for Rohingya.

Rohingya say they risked imprisonment or worse for merely proudly owning a cell phone. “Each time I noticed the army, I’d disguise my cellphone,” mentioned Mohamad Khaled, a 30-year-old Rohingya man from Taung Bazar, Buthidaung Township. “If any troopers noticed a cell in our hand, they’d both take it or arrest us or they’d demand cash.”

Cellphones have additionally been among the many gadgets seized by army border guards as Rohingya fled.

Final yr’s exodus adopted earlier waves of pressured displacement of the Rohingya that date again to the 1990s — when Anowar, the cellphone repairman, first left Myanmar together with greater than 250,000 different Rohingya.

He ultimately returned, solely to be pressured to flee once more throughout the current violence.

“My dream? That we, together with my mom and sister, are protected. We need to return and regain our rights and we want to dwell in peace,” he says.

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