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

These last few days I've had a glimpse of man's inhumanity to man, a peek inside the brutality and cruelty endured by a people who have been targeted for no other reason than their faith.

Witness after witness took me back to August of this year when the armed forces of Myanmar unleashed a living hell on some of the most gentle people on Earth.

Eyes welled with 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 which may, one day, be used in a court of justice.


The mission was to lay the foundations for future war crimes trials using international jurisdiction by collating eye witness statements and turning them in to affidavits which can be used by lawyers around the world.

We can no longer rely on the United Nations Security Council to do the right thing and so ordinary citizens are coming together to try to deliver justice to the Rohingya people. While the UN's major players like Russia and China are putting politics and power games before people, the genocide continues.

The persecution by the Myanmar army and police has seen Rohingyas driven from their home in Rakhine State in the country's western region.

While the majority of Rohingyas are Muslim, attacks have also occurred against Hindu Rohingyas. Medecins Sans Frontieres estimated more than 6700 Rohingya, including 730 children, were killed in August alone. The Myanmar army has been accused of wide-scale human rights violations, including extrajudicial killings, gang rapes, arson and infanticides.

The crackdown drew criticism from the United Nations, which cited possible "crimes against humanity", human rights group Amnesty International and the US Department of State.

My mission was to take down the testimonies along with an all-women team of lawyers from South Africa. It was painstaking and excruciating in detail and content but it now means that this evidence should be admissible in courts of law around the world.

The rest of the team was Shaida Mahomed, an advocate of the high court of the Republic of South Africa, lawyer Tasneem Fredericks, and human rights advocate Shabnam Mayet - all determined that the thousands of Rohingya refugees forced out of their Myanmar homeland should get justice.

The aim is to bring charges against those who have committed war crimes and genocide against the minority Muslim community. They might be immune from prosecution in Myanmar but should military generals and others step into different legal jurisdictions immunity will be stripped from them.

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

The scale of the persecution is breathtaking and the stories told were horrific. It was incredibly painful for some of the victims to retrace their steps but their eye-witness accounts and graphic detail were needed.

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 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 those responsible to travel without fear of arrest and prosecution.

"Witness statements 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 by making our statements available."

The venture has been part-funded by a news group called Salaamedia based in South Africa and the charity International Relief Organisation (IRO).

The head of the charity, Mamdooh Kamal Ali Badawi, says he is frustrated by the lack of action from the UN. He expressed his concerns in a meeting with the Speaker of the Bangladesh Parliament, Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury.

Chaudhury, the first female Speaker and one of Bangladesh's highest-powered politicians, said it was important to resolve the situation quickly, and listened to some of the harrowing evidence that had been collected from refugees.

Any lawyers in New Zealand prepared to give their time to help take statements from the Rohingya refugees to be used in courts of law should contact Shabnam Mayet via shabzym@gmail.com

■ Yvonne Ridley is a UK-based journalist and author. Her latest book, Torture: Does It Work? Interrogation Issues and Effectiveness in the War on Terror is available from: https://www.amazon.com/Torture-Interrogation-issues-effectiveness-Global-x/dp/1782668306