Myanmar’s de facto prime minister Aung San Suu Kyi and army chief Gen. Min Aung Hlaing are among those named in a lawsuit filed in Buenos Aires for crimes against Rohingya Muslims. (Photos: Lillian Suwanrumpha, Ye Aung Thu/AFP)
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is among civilian and military leaders named in an Argentina lawsuit for crimes against the Rohingya.
It is the first time the Nobel laureate has been targeted legally over the refugee crisis.
Rohingya and Latin American human rights organizations have filed a landmark case alleging ongoing genocide against the Rohingya in Myanmar.
The lawsuit demands that Myanmar’s military and civilian leaders, including State Counselor and de facto prime minister Suu Kyi, face justice under the international legal principle of “universal jurisdiction,” a legal concept enshrined in many countries’ laws.
Argentine lawyer Tomas Ojea Quintana, who is leading the case, said some crimes were so serious that they concerned humanity as a whole.
Nations have an obligation to pursue these crimes no matter where they have been committed, he said, and to make sure that no country ever became a safe haven for perpetrators.
“The genocide against the Rohingya is a clear-cut example of such a situation and today we are using Argentinean courts to send a strong message that this will not be tolerated,” he said.
Quintana worked as the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar between 2008 and 2014 and he said that during that time he had personally seen the suffering of Rohingya people and other minorities. “It’s time for justice to be done,” he said.
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Argentina’s courts have taken up other universal jurisdiction cases in the past, including ex-dictator Francisco Franco in Spain and the Falun Gong spiritual movement in China.
Two human rights organizations in Argentina — Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and Foundation for Peace and Justice — are supporting the lawsuit.
They have already helped bring influential figures to justice over the disappearance of tens of thousands during the era of the military junta, while Myanmar is also facing legal pressure in courts for the expulsion of the Rohingya from Rakhine state in 2017.
On Nov. 11, the Gambia filed a case against Myanmar at the UN’s top court over Rohingya atrocities, while prosecutors at the International Criminal Court also launched preliminary investigations last year in Bangladesh, where thousands of Rohingya refugees remain in crowded camps.
Myanmar’s government and military have yet to respond to the Argentine lawsuit.
On Sept. 17, UN investigators hinted that Suu Kyi could face prosecution for crimes against humanity over atrocities against the Rohingya and other minorities committed by the military.
The investigators said that her civilian government had no direct control over the actions of the Tatmadaw (armed forces) but that her party controlled 60 percent of the seats in Myanmar’s bicameral parliament and had the power to change every law except the constitution.
“Consequently, she had extensive responsibilities for the prevailing conditions and human rights,” they noted.