Myanmar has “resolutely” rejected a ruling from the International Criminal Court (ICC) which said that the body had jurisdiction over alleged deportations of Rohingya to Bangladesh as a possible crime against humanity.
Through an unprecedented ruling on Thursday, the ICC empowered itself to probe alleged crimes against the Rohingya, even though Myanmar is not an ICC member.
In response, the office of Myanmar’s President Win Myint on Friday dismissed the ICC ruling, calling it “the result of faulty procedure and of dubious legal merit” and saying the country was “under no obligation” to respect it.
“Furthermore, allegations consisting of charged narratives of harrowing personal tragedies which have nothing to do with the legal arguments in question were permitted, thereby putting emotional pressure on the Court,” the president’s office added in a statement.
Tug of war with the ICC
Last year, about 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape a brutal crackdown by security forces in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
In August, an independent UN fact-finding mission concluded that Myanmar’s military last year had carried out mass killings and gang rapes of Rohingya with “genocidal intent”.
The report said Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of the Myanmar army, and five other generals should be prosecuted.
Myanmar has denied committing atrocities against the Rohingya, saying its military carried out justifiable actions against a Rohingya armed group.
The ICC’s decision was intended to pave the way for prosecutor Fatou Bensouda to further examine whether there is sufficient evidence to file charges in the case.
“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 on Thursday.
“The reason is that an element of this crime (the crossing of a border) took place on the territory of a State party to the Statute (Bangladesh),” the ruling said.
While Myanmar is not a member of The Hague-based court, Bangladesh is – and the cross-border nature of deportation was sufficient for jurisdiction, the ICC said in its ruling.
On Friday, Amnesty International welcomed the ICC’s ruling, calling it “a clear signal to the Myanmar military that they will be held accountable”.
“This decision is a significant step in the right direction which opens up a clear avenue of justice for the Rohingya who were driven out of their homes, often as soldiers opened fire on them and burned down their villages,” said Biraj Patnaik, the rights group’s South Asia director.
Myanmar has come under intense pressure in recent weeks over its crackdown on the Rohingya, a group it denies citizenship to.
The ICC ruling followed international outrage triggered by the sentencing on Monday of two Reuters news agency journalists – both Myanmar nationals – to seven years in jail under a draconian state secrets act.
Wa Lone, 32, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 28, had been investigating the extrajudicial killing of Rohingya villagers when they were arrested in December last year.