A Rohingya man weeps as he holds his dead son on a boat crossing the Naf River from Myanmar into Bangladesh. The ICC has approved an inquiry into Myanmar's crimes against Rohingya Muslims. (Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP)
The International Criminal Court has approved a full investigation into Myanmar’s crimes against the Rohingya amid mounting legal pressure from around the world.
Judges backed a prosecution request to probe claims of crimes against humanity over Myanmar’s bloody military crackdown against the Muslim minority group.
A panel of judges studied international prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request for an investigation and the court declared on Nov. 14 that this had been approved.
The ICC concluded that there were indeed grounds to believe widespread acts of violence had been committed “that could qualify as crimes against humanity. The court said these specifically related to “the deportation of the Rohingya population across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and persecution on the grounds of ethnicity and/or religion.”
The ICC’s authorization comes one day after former democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was named in an Argentine lawsuit for alleged crimes against Rohingya and four days after the Gambia filed a separate genocide lawsuit against Myanmar at the UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
More than 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee Rakhine state into neighboring Bangladesh in August 2017 and subjected to violence that United Nations investigators say amounted to genocide.
Myanmar has vehemently dismissed accusations that it committed ethnic cleansing or genocide.
Myanmar is not a member of the ICC but the court ruled last year that it had jurisdiction over crimes against the Rohingya as Bangladesh, where many Rohingya refugees now live, is a member.
Bensouda, the ICC’s chief prosecutor, was allowed to open a preliminary investigation into Myanmar in September 2018 and formally applied to begin a full-scale probe in July 2019.
She has welcomed the news that her office can conduct an independent and impartial investigation.
“This is a significant development, sending a positive signal to the victims of atrocity crimes in Myanmar and elsewhere,” she said, vowing that her investigation “will seek to uncover the truth.”
'Wheels of justice are turning'
Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s director for East and Southeast Asia, said the ICC’s decision marked an important step in the fight for justice and accountability in Myanmar and sent a strong message to the orchestrators of atrocities against Rohingya that their days of impunity were numbered.
“The wheels of justice are turning — those who continue to shield perpetrators from accountability should think long and hard about which side of history they choose to be on,” he warned.
George Graham, director of Children and Armed Conflict at Save the Children, said the scale and intensity of violence committed by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya demanded an independent and impartial hearing in a court of law.
“Rohingya boys and girls have been killed, raped and witnessed horrific human rights violations,” said Graham.
“Approximately half a million children have been displaced into neighboring Bangladesh, where nearly one in five are experiencing mental distress. They are entitled to their day in court.”
Myanmar’s government and military have yet to respond to the three legal cases they now face: in the ICJ, Argentina and ICC.