Sat, Sep 08, 2018 - Page 1 News List

Judges rule ICC has jurisdiction to probe Rohingya expulsions

AP, THE HAGUE, Netherlands

Rohingya refugees from Myanmar’s Rakhine State walk near Ukhia at the border between Bangladesh and Myanmar on Sept. 4 last year.

Photo: AFP

International Criminal Court (ICC) judges on Thursday ruled that it has jurisdiction to investigate widespread allegations that Burmese forces have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from their homes.

The decision opens up the possibility of crimes against Rohingya people being prosecuted at the court, even though Myanmar is not a member of the court.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda must take the jurisdiction ruling into account “as she continues with her preliminary examination concerning the crimes allegedly committed against the Rohingya people,” the court said in a statement.

The probe, which aims to establish whether there is sufficient evidence to launch a full investigation, “must be concluded within a reasonable time,” it added.

Bensouda has not formally announced a preliminary examination, but the judges in their ruling said that prosecutors’ work so far studying the Rohingya issue serves that purpose.

“This is a crucial step for accountability for crimes against the Rohingya and will rock a lot of boats,” Human Rights Watch international justice director Richard Dicker told reporters.

Bensouda earlier this year asked for a ruling on jurisdiction, arguing that while the Rohingya were forced from their homes in Myanmar, part of the crime involved them being driven across the border into Bangladesh, which is a member of the court.

There have been widespread reports of atrocities committed against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Last week, investigators working for the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said that Burmese military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims, taking the unusual step of identifying by name six of those they claimed in a report were behind systematic crimes targeting the ethnic minority.

The call amounted to some of the strongest language yet from UN officials, who have denounced alleged human rights violations in Myanmar since a bloody crackdown began in August last year.

The three-member “fact-finding mission” and their team, working under a mandate from the UN Human Rights Council, assembled hundreds of accounts from expatriate Rohingya, as well as satellite footage and other information for the report.

Such reports will likely be closely studied by prosecutors at the court.

The ruling said that the court can also exercise jurisdiction over other crimes, “such as the crimes against humanity of persecution and/or other inhumane acts.”

The latest crisis began with attacks by an underground Rohingya insurgent group on Burmese security personnel in August in northern Rakhine State.

Myanmar’s military responded with counterinsurgency sweeps and has been accused of widespread rights violations, including rape, murder, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes and villages — leading about 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

“The judges’ decision offers a glimmer of hope for justice for the thousands of Rohingya victims who were deported to Bangladesh from Myanmar and continue to suffer in Bangladesh as a result of this serious crime,” International Federation for Human Rights vice president Adilur Raman Khan said, urging prosecutors to swiftly open an investigation.

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