The Hague (AFP) – The chief prosecutor for the International Criminal Court has asked judges to rule whether she can open a probe into the mass deportations of the Rohingya people from Myanmar.
Hundreds of thousands of the stateless Muslim minority have fled Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state in recent months to escape a bloody military crackdown.
The violence has left a trail of torched villages in its wake, amid allegations of murder and rape at the hands of troops and vigilantes.
In an unprecedented move late Monday, ICC chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda contended that “consistent and credible reports … indicate that since August 2017 more than 670,000 Rohingya, lawfully present in Myanmar, have been intentionally deported across the international border into Bangladesh.”
She asked judges to rule “whether the court may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation”.
Opening a preliminary probe into the Rohingya’s plight is legally complicated for the tribunal as Myanmar is not a member of the ICC. Bangladesh is, however.
“This is not an abstract question, but a concrete one,” Bensouda said in her filing to judges late Monday.
Set up in 2002 in The Hague, the ICC is the world’s only permanent war crimes court and acts to prosecute the worst abuses including genocide in places where national tribunals are unwilling or unable to act.
Bensouda argued her office did have authority to investigate the situation, saying such a move “would be consistent with the legal framework” of the Rome Statute, which underpins the court’s work as well as “well-established principles of criminal jurisdiction”.
She likened deportation to “a cross-border shooting”, arguing the crime “is not completed until the bullet (fired in one state) strikes and kills the victim (standing in another state)”.
Bensouda asked the tribunal to set up a special chamber to examine and rule on her request, urging that it be dealt with in an “expeditious” manner.
The Myanmar army in the mainly Buddhist nation has denied any allegations, saying its campaign has been a legitimate response to Rohingya militant attacks on August 25 last year that killed about a dozen border guard police.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation deal in November but not one refugee has returned so far.