ICC Can Prosecute Myanmar for Human Rights Abuses

Earlier this month, the International Criminal Court (ICC) ruled that it could prosecute Myanmar for grave breaches of human rights against the persecuted Rohingya people, which include crimes against humanity. As a result, Myanmar military leaders and government officials could be subject to charges.

Since August 2017, more than 700,000 men, women, and children have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to seek refuge amidst military crackdowns and a distressing campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Read more: What You Need to Know About the Rohingya Genocide

Reuters reported that an independent UN fact-finding mission conducted in August discovered that, last year, the Myanmar military had perpetrated gang rapes and mass killings with “genocidal intent” against the Muslim Rohingya minority. The mission, therefore, concluded that the military’s commander-in-chief and five generals should be prosecuted in relation to the crimes.

Read more: Human Rights Groups Push for Myanmar’s Referral to the ICC

However German broadcaster, DW Akademie, wrote that they believed a conviction of Myanmar generals would be unlikely, due to the fact that Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. In response to this, Myanmar has declared that the ICC does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute them, nor will they co-operate with the international body, which relies on co-operation from the country in which the crimes have been committed.

More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to seek refuge amidst military crackdowns

Yet, the prosecutor of the ICC, Fatou Bensouda, revealed that the court does, in fact, have jurisdiction to prosecute Myanmar for forcible transfer of a population. She argued that, even though the crimes which resulted in the fleeing of the Rohingya did occur in Myanmar, the crimes would not have been “completed” until they reached Bangladesh, a nation that is party to the Rome Statute.

Bensouda stated that forced deportation can be likened to “a cross-border shooting”, whereby the crime “is not completed until the bullet (fired in one state) strikes and kills the victim (standing in another state)”.

It was remarked by several news outlets that often defendants in cases before the ICC have even benefitted from the proceedings. Kenyan politician, Uhuru Kenyatta, was an example of this after he was charged with instigating riots in the wake of the 2007 Kenyan election, and was then eventually elected the country’s President in 2013 after declaring “nobody will tell us [Kenyans] what to do” at the ICC.

Critics of the ICC are sceptical of its ability to have members of Myanmar’s military appear in court; often being indicted over crime by the ICC does not necessarily mean the accused will appear before it. Sudan’s president, Omar al-Bashir, has been sitting in office since 1993, despite being charged with genocide by the court in 2008. He is yet to be arrested. 

Other scepticisms include the lethargy of proceedings. Since its establishment in 2002, for example, the court has heard 26 cases but has only seen convictions in four of them. The first guilty verdict; Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga, took 10 years. 

The late UN Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, once stated that “the establishment of an International Criminal Court will ensure that humanity’s response will be swift and will be just.” Hopefully, when the time comes to prosecute those involved in the devastating campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya people, the ICC proceedings are dealt with in the way Kofi Annan intended; both swiftly and justly. 

Phoebe Egoroff

Founder and of Jurist International, a website focusing on the latest developments in international human rights and criminal law.

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