In a surprise ruling, judges at the International Criminal Court said Thursday that they could exercise jurisdiction to investigate the deportation of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from their homes in Myanmar as a crime against humanity. The judges’ 2-to-1 decision opened a path toward possible accountability for ferocious attacks by security forces on civilians that began a year ago and caused immense suffering as some 700,000 men, woman and children struggled to cross the waterlogged border into Bangladesh. A recent United Nations report described the campaign as genocide, with an estimated 10,000 deaths; it offered harrowing accounts of gang rapes and the widespread destruction of villages. Despite an international outcry, the campaign by Myanmar’s army was carried out with impunity as the country’s civilian leaders declined to criticize the violence. To this day, Myanmar’s de facto leader, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, has refused to hold the nation’s military leaders accountable. 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.Two of the three judges effectively encouraged the prosecutor by expanding her jurisdiction to include related crimes such as persecution and inhumane acts, as well as deportation. They urged her to act swiftly. The court’s involvement in this case raises complex legal issues. One judge declined to endorse the ruling, arguing that the court’s job was not to give advisory opinions. But the decision drew wide approval from legal experts and human rights groups. “This is bold and innovative,” said William Schabas, professor of international law at Middlesex University in London. “It gives the court the opportunity to engage with one of the great crises of the day and it’s also a very strong message to the prosecutor. The judges are telling her to move forward with it.” One legal expert said that this offered a new path, given that Myanmar refuses to cooperate in any international investigation into the flights and the reported killings and mass rape of the Rohingya. The United Nations Security Council has not addressed the question of holding Myanmar’s leaders accountable, and Myanmar’s close ally, China, would be expected to block any moves to refer the Rohingya crisis to the court. “This ruling is enormously significant since, until now, this is the only route towards a measure of accountability,” said Alex Whiting, professor of international law at Harvard University. “There will be great challenges, but a challenge in itself is not a reason not to act.” An independent United Nations’ fact-finding mission in August wrote that Myanmar’s military carried out atrocities that amounted to “genocidal intent,” and it cited six military commanders who should be prosecuted for genocide.
Courtesy: New York Times