ICC says it can rule on alleged crimes against Rohingya

Rohingya Muslims stranded in a no-man's land between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Although Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court, Bangladesh is, and the cross-border nature of deportation was sufficient for jurisdiction, the ICC rule
Rohingya Muslims stranded in a no-man's land between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Although Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court, Bangladesh is, and the cross-border nature of deportation was sufficient for jurisdiction, the ICC ruled.PHOTO: NYTIMES
Rohingya Muslims stranded in a no-man's land between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Although Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court, Bangladesh is, and the cross-border nature of deportation was sufficient for jurisdiction, the ICC rule
Fatou Bensouda

Hague-based court says cross-border nature of deportation sufficient for jurisdiction

AMSTERDAM • The International Criminal Court (ICC) has ruled that it has jurisdiction over alleged deportations of Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh as a possible crime against humanity, reported news agency Reuters.

Thursday's decision at the Hague-based court paves the way for prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to further examine whether there is sufficient evidence to file charges in the case.

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.

"The court has jurisdiction over the crime against humanity of deportation allegedly committed against members of the Rohingya people," a three-judge panel said in a written summary of their decision.

"The reason is that an element of this crime - the crossing of a border - took place on the territory of a state party (Bangladesh)."

In a statement issued yesterday, the Myanmar government rejected the decision, reiterating that because it is not a party to the Rome Statute, it is under no obligation to respect the court ruling.

The decision at the Hague-based court paves the way for prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to further examine whether there is sufficient evidence to file charges in the case.

"The decision was the result of manifest bad faith, procedural irregularities and general lack of transparency," it said. The government also said it had set up its own independent commission of inquiry and was willing and able to investigate any crimes and violations of human rights in its own territory.

The office of government leader Aung San Suu Kyi last month said Myanmar was "under no obligation to enter into litigation with the prosecutor", and setting the jurisdiction over the case would "set a dangerous precedent whereby future populistic causes and complaints against non-state parties ... may be litigated".

According to Reuters, Ms Bensouda had asked the ICC's judges for a formal opinion on whether the fact that alleged crimes had at least in part happened on the territory of a member state brought them under the court's purview.

However, Thursday's ruling was potentially more expansive than some experts had foreseen.

The judges said: "The court may also exercise its jurisdiction with regard to any other crime set out in article 5 of the statute, such as the crimes against humanity of persecution and/or other inhumane acts."

With this decision, the prosecutor "has no choice but to submit a request" to open a preliminary examination, University of Amsterdam international law expert Kevin Jon Heller told Reuters.

An independent United Nations fact-finding mission in August concluded that Myanmar's military last year carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Muslim Rohingya with "genocidal intent".

About 700,000 Rohingya fled the crackdown and most are now living in refugee camps in Bangladesh.

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

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 08, 2018, with the headline 'ICC says it can rule on alleged crimes against Rohingya'. Print Edition | Subscribe