The International Criminal Court (ICC) on Thursday authorized an investigation into allegations that Myanmar has committed crimes against humanity in its treatment of the Rohingya Muslim minority.
Myanmar is outside of the ICC’s jurisdiction, which is limited to those states that are a party to the Rome Statute treaty. However, its neighbor Bangladesh is a party to the Rome Statute. At least one charge is believed to have occurred in Bangladesh, and therefore, the ICC is extending its jurisdiction to investigate other related allegations in Myanmar itself. Specifically, the ICC will investigate crimes that have occurred “within the context of two waves of violence in Rakhine State on the territory of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, as well as any other crimes which are sufficiently linked to these events.”
The authorization of this investigation arises from a request made in July by ICC Prosecutor Faou Bensouda to formally open the investigation. Following her request, the ICC conducted an initial survey as to the potential validity and necessity of such an investigation. During this period, victims of the alleged crimes had the opportunity to submit victim representations, which serve to “provide their views, concerns and expectations, to the ICC Judges who are considering the OTP’s request.” These representations were then submitted in a consolidated report to the ICC at the end of October, and a redacted form has now been made available to the public.
The central focus of the investigation are allegations of forced deportations, inhumane acts and persecution. The prosecution alleges that although the coercive acts that forced the victims to flee occurred in Myanmar, the act of them fleeing into Bangladesh creates grounds for ICC jurisdiction. From this initial act of the victims fleeing, the prosecution plans to investigate other connected allegations. These include the use of violence against the Rohingya, violating the rights of displaced people to return to their State of origin, persecution on ethnic and religious grounds, and any other charges revealed in the course of the investigation.
There has been concern about the ICC’s investigation not explicitly addressing the allegations of genocide. However, the ICC has only the barest of claims of jurisdiction over Myanmar, and there are no claims of genocide occurring in Bangladesh. Therefore, the ICC is likely attempting to solidifying its authority before using this investigation to uncover evidence of genocide connected to the original allegations.
The ICC is the second international court to hear concerns over crimes against humanity in Myanmar as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) this week has also agreed to hear similar accusations brought by The Gambia. The ICJ is the UN’s highest authority on disputes between states, and Myanmar is under its jurisdiction.