The International Criminal Court (ICC) has launched a preliminary investigation into Myanmar’s crackdown on the Muslim-majority Rohingya that forced hundreds of thousands to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
The examination will look at a range of allegations against Myanmar’s security forces that could include the killing of Rohingya civilians, sexual violence, forced disappearance, destruction and looting, ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a written statement on Tuesday.
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“A preliminary examination is not an investigation but a process of examining the information available in order to reach a fully informed determination on whether there is a reasonable basis to proceed with an investigation,” Bensouda added.
Myanmar has repeatedly argued that the ICC does not have jurisdiction to investigate the allegations because it is not a party to the Rome Statute, which established the court.
The ICC authorised Bensouda to open the case after its judges ruled that the alleged crime of deportation happened partly in Bangladesh, which is a member of the court.
“While Myanmar is not a State Party to the ICC, Bangladesh is. The Court may therefore exercise jurisdiction over conduct to the extent it partly occurred on the territory of Bangladesh,” Bensouda wrote.
The announcement followed the release of a UN report that detailed allegations of crimes committed by the Myanmar military against the Rohingya.
It reiterated earlier findings that some senior Myanmar military officials should be prosecuted for war crimes and genocide.
Myanmar’s ambassador in Geneva called that report “one-sided” and “flawed.”
More than 700,000 mostly Muslim Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August last year.
The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, estimates that children make up 55 percent of the total Rohingya refugee population in Bangladesh.
A family-counting exercise conducted in December 2017 by the UNHCR found more than 5,500 families being led by children under 18.
The Rohingya were stripped of citizenship in 1982 and have been subject to persecution in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, where most lived.
Labelled ‘Bengali’ by the government and much of the Myanmar population, to infer that they are interlopers from Bangladesh, Rohingya are denied access to healthcare, education and freedom of movement.