Can the government of Burma be taken to the International Criminal Court for its many crimes against the Rohingya? Until now, action has been blocked because Burma is not a signer of the Rome Statute that created the ICC, and because the UN Security Council has been blocked from action by China, a protector of Myanmar’s military government.
However, this week brought some hopeful news. Ms. Fatou Bensouda, Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC), recommended recognizing that war crimes and genocide against the Rohingya are most likely eligible to be heard by the Court. On April 9, 2018, her office announced that it is seeking a ruling on jurisdiction because the nation most directly impacted by policies of mass displacement is a signer-- Bangladesh.
“This is a hopeful and very welcome sign that international legal protections need not be blocked by powerful nations to prevent justice for the Rohingya,” stated Malik Mujahid the Chair of Burma Task Force, a human rights advocacy NGO based in the United States. “While this has not been done before, we would like to see the International Criminal Court challenge the impunity of perpetrators of Crimes Against Humanity in Burma."
Experts in international human rights law have urged that the international community consider Bangladesh’s very serious difficulties in accommodating one million Rohingya refugees that were deliberately made stateless and forced out.
One legal expert, Geoff Curfman of Georgetown University, recently asserted that, “There is no reason to doubt that Bangladesh accepts the general principle of objective territorial jurisdiction” ie that crimes do not have to be initiated on their own territory to be relevant to their interests. In fact, China, Britain, France, Germany and the United States are among the nations that accept this legal principle. Mr. Curfman adds, “Asserting objective territorial jurisdiction … could help deprive human rights violators of a safe-haven, which they have used to injure nearly a million innocent civilians.”