Myanmar‘s government has set up a special unit on “international criminal justice” as it faces a series of lawsuits over its brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
The unit is designed to strengthen legal expertise and provide an opinion to government ministries in relation to international criminal law, according to a statement from the Office of State Counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi.
The country’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace prize winner is heading the country’s delegation to the United Nations’ top court where it faces accusations of genocide against the Rohingya. The hearings are due to start on December 10.
More than 730,000 Rohingya, most of them Muslims, fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following the brutal crackdown by the military, which United Nations investigators have concluded was carried out with “genocidal intent”.
Myanmar has repeatedly justified the crackdown on the Rohingya as necessary to stamp out “terrorism”. It also insists its own agencies can adequately investigate allegations of abuse.
The special unit within the State Counsellor’s office will be led by the Attorney General’s Office with support from legal experts from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Office of the Judge Advocate General, which is responsible for military justice.
The Gambia, a tiny mainly-Muslim West African nation, lodged its lawsuit after winning the support of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has 57 member states.
Only a state can file a case against another state at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The case will be the first international legal attempt to bring Myanmar to justice over the Rohingya crisis and is a rare example of a country suing another over an issue to which it is not directly a party.
Myanmar is also facing two other international legal actions over the Rohingya – an International Criminal Court (ICC) investigation and a separate lawsuit in Argentina that says Aung San Suu Kyi “committed crimes” against the Rohingya.