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ICC opens initial examination into Rohingya genocide

Many steps required before Myanmar military leaders can be arrested but ICC's recent action seen as an important move

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ICC opens initial examination into Rohingya genocide

Rohingya refugee Saida Bibi (left) lies beside relative Bodu Zzaman at Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh on Aug. 11. The International Criminal Court is investigating claims that Myanmar's military committed genocide against the Muslim minority. (Photo by Ed Jones/AFP)

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The International Criminal Court (ICC) has opened a preliminary examination into Myanmar's alleged crimes against the Rohingya that resulted in about 700,000 people fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh.

The ICC examination will determine whether the forced deportation of thousands of into Rohingya from Myanmar into Bangladesh was a crime against humanity.

ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a statement on Sept. 18 that 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 said, echoing a move by ICC judges saying as much on Sept. 6.

"In this context, the preliminary examination may take into account a number of alleged coercive acts having resulted in the forced displacement of the Rohingya people, including deprivation of fundamental rights, killing, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, destruction and looting."  

Rohingya refugees have fled to Bangladesh since a Myanmar military crackdown in August 2017 following attacks on security personnel by Rohingya insurgents.

"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 pursuant to the criteria established by the Rome Statute," Bensouda said.

The ICC announcement came on the same day that the United Nations Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said that the country's military had used "hard to fathom" levels of violence against the Rohingya and should be prosecuted for genocide.

The mission's 444-page report found that the military committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against the minority.

Christopher Sidoti from the fact-finding mission told that many steps are required for the prosecution of Myanmar military leaders before an arrest warrant could be issued but the ICC's move is an important step.

Sidoti, an Australian and international human rights consultant, said the U.N. has engaged with Myanmar authorities. "But the problem is the lack of willingness by Myanmar's government to collaborate with the United Nations," he said.

Myanmar has vehemently dismissed allegations that its military has conducted atrocities against Rohingya and the government did not allow the U.N. mission access to Rakhine.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo of Yangon recently appealed to the international community to understand what he said is a delicate situation.

"Extreme terms like genocide, ethnic cleansing and sanctions will not assist us in our journey towards peace and democracy," Cardinal Bo said.

Sidoti said he was very disappointed with the cardinal's statement. "Cardinal Bo does not understand that peace, reconciliation and democracy cannot be built on the foundations of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes," he said.

Cardinal Bo has defended State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in her efforts to foster democracy through working with Myanmar's powerful military.

Suu Kyi has been widely criticized for her handling of the crisis and calls have been made for her to be stripped of her Nobel peace prize for remaining silent over the persecution of the Rohingya.

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