The International Criminal Court said on Thursday it had approved a prosecution request to investigate crimes against humanity against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority who were systematically driven across the border to Bangladesh.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military, which UN investigators say was carried out with “genocidal intent”. Buddhist majority Myanmar denies accusations of genocide.
However, the accusation of genocide, while within the jurisdiction of the court, will not be investigated by the ICC, a treaty-based body that is not supported by Myanmar.
Judges at the ICC, the world’s only permanent war crimes court, said that although Myanmar is not a member of the court, it has jurisdiction to examine alleged crimes that partially took place across the border in Bangladesh, which is a member.
In a statement, the ICC said prosecutors were granted permission to examine acts that could qualify as widespread or systematic crimes against the Rohingya, including deportation, a crime against humanity, and persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion.
The ICC is now the second international court to look into alleged atrocities against the Rohingya, after Gambia on Monday filed a claim with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Myanmar for carrying out an alleged genocide against the Muslim minority. The ICJ is the United Nations’ top court for disputes between states.
In July, ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested court permission to examine crimes in Bangladesh after two waves of violence in Rakhine State on Myanmar territory.
She said then there was a “reasonable basis to believe that at least 700,000 Rohingya people were deported from Myanmar to Bangladesh through a range of coercive acts, and that great suffering or serious injury has been inflicted on the Rohingya through violating their right to return”.
Bensouda vowed on Thursday that her office will conduct an independent and impartial investigation.
“This is a significant development, sending a positive signal to the victims of atrocity crimes in Myanmar and elsewhere ... My investigation will seek to uncover the truth,” she said in a statement.
Human rights organisations and Rohingya leaders also welcomed the court’s announcement.
“I hope this will get us justice. Genocide will happen again if no action is taken against the Myanmar government and the army,” said Dil Mohammed, a Rohingya community leader who fled to Bangladesh after the 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar.
“Rohingya victims may finally get their day in court,” said Param-Preet Singh of Human Rights Watch’s International Justice programme.