Myanmar military chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing salutes during military exercises in the Ayeyarwaddy delta region in February. He was fired on June 25 amid allegations he was responsible for crimes against humanity. (Photo by AFP)
Myanmar is facing growing pressure from human rights groups to bring its military personnel to justice at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for the atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
Human Rights Watch (HRW) has called on the global community to unite in advocating that the U.N. Security Council refer similar cases to the ICC, which Myanmar is not a party to and does not accept its jurisdiction.
"Concerned governments should press the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar to the ICC and ensure that evidence is collected and preserved for prosecutions," Brad Adams, Asia director at HRW, said on June 29.
Amnesty International (AI) said the council must stop "playing politics" and heed such calls.
AI released a report on June 27 showing that credible evidence had been gathered to implicate Myanmar's military chief Min Aung Hlaing and 12 other military individuals in crimes against humanity.
On that same day, Yanghee Lee, the U.N.'s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar, asked the council to set up an accountability mechanism to "investigate and prosecute at the ICC" those responsible for human rights abuses that have occurred in Myanmar in recent decades.
Such calls have been stepped up since the military sentenced seven of its own troops to 10 years' hard labor in April for their role in the massacre of 10 Royingha men at a village in this northwestern state last September.
Two Reuters journalists were arrested earlier in December for reporting on the massacre, which occurred in September 2017.
Meanwhile, Myanmar's military fired Major Gen. Maung Maung Soe on June 25 — the same day that Canada and the EU imposed sanctions on him and six other military and police officers from the country — amid claims he helped orchestrate a brutal campaign against the Rohingya last summer.
The nation continues to blame Rohingya militants for sparking the army's crackdown, which has seen hundreds of thousands of this Muslim minority flee to refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, where they have braved hunger and floods pending a repatriation deal.
Kyaw Min, chairman of a Rohingya party based in Yangon called Democracy and Human Rights, said international rights groups have "strong evidence showing Myanmar's military [used] excessive force in its clearance operations in Rakhine."
Pe Than, a lower house MP for the Arakan National Party, which represents the interests of the ethnic Rakhine people, said the military should have no reason to fear cases being brought to the attention of the ICC if they acted lawfully.
"I don't [see any problem] if the government is able to provide an explanation showing how the military clearance operations were legitimate because they were provoked by the ARSA," he said, using the acronym for the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a militant group.
Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader and member of the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission on Rakhine, said Myanmar would likely not agree to this as it recently launched an independent commission to probe rights abuses.
He said the global community would do more good by "considering how to solve the Rohingya crisis instead of pressuring the government of [Myanmar State Counselor and Nobel Peace Prize laureate] Aung San Suu Kyi."
In late June, the ICC gave Myanmar a July deadline to submit its observations on the court's jurisdiction regarding the crossing of refugees across the border in Bangladesh.
"Considering that the crime of deportation is alleged to have commenced in the territory of Myanmar, the chamber deems it appropriate to seek observations from the competent authorities of Myanmar on the prosecutor's request," the ICC said.
Over 700,000 Rohingya have left their homes in Rakhine and made their way to Bangladesh since the crackdown began last August.
The nation has since been downgraded to Tier 3 on the US State Department's annual Trafficking In Persons list.