ICC says it can rule on alleged crimes against Rohingya

Elias Hubbard
September 10, 2018

THE International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday said it has the jurisdiction to prosecute Burma (Myanmar) for alleged crimes against humanity, opening the door to possible charges against the country's military leaders and politicians.

The ruling came in response to a request by the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, Fatou Bensouda, who argued that although Myanmar was not a member of the court, the crime continued into Bangladesh, which is a member.

The move comes days after United Nations investigators called for an global investigation and prosecution of Myanmar's army chief and 5 other top military commanders for genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes against the Rohingya.

Zaw Htay declined to comment in detail on that ruling, but said the government would release a statement later responding to the decision.

Although Myanmar is not a member of the Hague-based court, Bangladesh is, and the cross-border nature of deportation was sufficient for jurisdiction, the court said.

Rohingya refugees shout slogans as they take part in a protest at the Kutupalong refugee camp to mark the one year anniversary of their exodus in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, on Aug 25, 2018.

ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had asked judges at the worldwide criminal court to rule whether she could investigate the deportations as a "crime against humanity".

Myanmar has stonewalled in response to global criticism, barring journalists and diplomats from visiting the scene of the crackdown except on short, military-chaperoned trips.

On Monday a judge jailed two Reuters journalists - both Myanmar nationals - for seven years under a draconian state secrets act linked to their reporting of the crisis.

Thursday's ruling now leaves a path for the ICC to announce the formal opening of a preliminary investigation into the Rohingya crisis.

The court says the preliminary probe, which aims to establish if there is sufficient evidence to launch a full-blown investigation, "must be concluded within a reasonable time".

Some of its biggest successes have been over war crimes in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the destruction of religious Muslim shrines in Timbuktu in Mali.

Zaw Htay said the government had not sought to influence the court, despite worldwide pressure over the Rohingya crackdown, including a U.N. Security Council meeting on Myanmar in the week before the verdict.

Myanmar has denied committing atrocities against the Rohingya, saying its military carried out justifiable actions against a Rohingya armed group.

Santiago said this ruling, however, is for now just on the jurisdiction to investigate around the alleged crime of deportation and we must be cautious in our optimism.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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