Rabat – Serious concerns have been raised in the longstanding Rohingya crisis following the emergence of on-site evidence of gang rapes, mass graves, and forced deportations, prompting the International Criminal Court (ICC) to push for criminal investigations of alleged atrocities.
“Harrowing accounts of Rohingya women tied to trees and raped for days by Myanmar’s military and men being pushed into mass graves, doused with petrol and set alight have been sent to the International Community Court,” the Guardian reported today.
The evidence was compiled and sent to ICC prosecutors by a coalition of Bangladesh organizations.
Accusing the Myanmar government of forced deportation and genocide, the Bangladesh organizations urged ICC prosecutors to intervene in the issue by requesting a criminal probe into the allegations.
ICC prosecutors reportedly met to discuss whether the Rohingya crisis is within the competence of the court.
The court subsequently sent the government of Myanmar a criminal probe request. The Myanmar government has until July 27 to respond to the request, as well as its accompanying allegations, and demonstrate whether or not the ICC has jurisdiction over the case.
The problem, however, is that Myanmar, as opposed to Bangladesh, is not a member state of the ICC, which means that the organization has no legal authority to intervene in a case that involves Myanmar.
A further obstacle to the ICC’s prospective legal action is that Myanmar rejects all allegations of violence or crimes committed against Rohingyas.
The country’s authorities argue that its military only made “legitimate use of force” against “illegal migrants from Bangladesh,” which is how many in the Buddhist-majority country are reported to perceive Rohingyas, who are mostly Muslims.
The Myanmar government maintains that the allegations of mass rape and ethnic cleansing are part of an external plot to damage the country’s reputation in the international community.
Last Wednesday, a social media account run by the office of State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi, whom many have described as “Myanmar’s de facto leader,” dismissed the allegations as “hate narratives from outside the country,” aiming to fuel social tensions within Myanmar.
Despite the legal and political obstacles in its way, the ICC is pushing towards investigation into alleged atrocities. Fatou Ben Souda, the court’s chief prosecutor, believes that the cross-border component of the Rohingya crisis, particularly the “forced deportations” part, gives the ICC legal leeway.
She argues that the ICC has territorial jurisdiction when deportations happen between a country that is an ICC member state and another country that is not.
Other important voices in the legal world have welcomed the prospect of an ICC investigation (and possible prosecution) in the Rohingya issue. They argue that the organization’s move is much overdue, as the ICC’s mandate is to condemn and “punish crimes against humanity.”
Sir Geoffrey Nice, a British lawyer who was involved with the ICC in the case of killings and atrocities in former Yugoslavia, told the Guardian that the court “must be brave and accept it has jurisdiction and ensure that these crimes are properly investigated.”
He said that not prosecuting would “be a huge setback for justice and undermine the court’s very authority.”
UN estimates suggest that more than 700,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar in the wake of state-sponsored militant attacks, systemic violence, and a military crackdown as long ago as August 2017. The UN describes the plight of Rohingyas as an ethnic cleansing “bearing all the hallmarks of genocide.”