Myanmar Calls ICC Request For Jurisdiction Over Rohingya Expulsion ‘Meritless’

Aung San Suu Kyi’s office alleges a ‘lack of fairness and transparency’ in the court’s proceedings.

An armed Myanmar border guard policeman mans an outpost overlooking a Rohingya refugee settlement in a "no-man's land" between Myanmar and Bangladesh, as seen from Maungdaw district, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, June 29, 2018.

Myanmar on Thursday called a prosecutor’s request for a ruling on whether the International Criminal Court can exercise jurisdiction over the country’s expulsion of Rohingya Muslims to Bangladesh “meritless” and said it should be dismissed.

State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s office issued a statement on Thursday repeating the government’s stance that the court has “no jurisdiction over Myanmar whatsoever” because the country is not a party to the Rome Statute which established the international tribunal.

“Myanmar, as a non-state party, is under no obligation to enter into litigation with the prosecutor at the ICC,” the 21-point statement said.

“Myanmar categorically rejects the proposition that the court has jurisdiction as proposed by the prosecutor in the request,” it said. “Myanmar also disagrees with the prosecutor’s assertion that population displacement across a national boundary is an essential objective element of the crime of deportation…”

The ICC had given Myanmar a deadline of July 27 to submit a written response to chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda’s request for a jurisdiction ruling on what she called the “alleged deportation” of more than 700,000 Rohingya from Rakhine during a crackdown by security forces that began on Aug. 25, 2017.

After Bensouda requested the ruling in April, Aung San Suu Kyi’s office accused her of trying to override principles of national sovereignty and noninterference in the internal affairs of other states enshrined in the United Nations charter and recalled in the ICC’s charter.

Myanmar also cited what it called “procedural framework irregularities” with Bensouda’s request and said it was concerned with a “lack of fairness and transparency” in the court’s proceedings.

The country said that there is no formal policy for proving crimes against humanity under the Rome Statute and offered an agreement it signed with Bangladesh in November 2017 to repatriate refugees verified as eligible for return as proof to the contrary.

The repatriation plan has failed to overcome Rohingya fears of returning to places where many were killed and their villages burned last year.

The U.N., rights groups, and other members of the international community have said that the crackdown amounted to ethnic cleansing, if not genocide.

The Myanmar government has largely denied the national military’s involvement in atrocities, including indiscriminate killings, rape, and arson, against the Rohingya during the crackdown and has defended its activities as part of a legitimate counterinsurgency operation against a militant Muslim group that carried out deadly attacks on police outposts in Rakhine.

Rights groups have called for the ICC to prosecute military and police officials, including Myanmar’s military commander-in-chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, for ordering the crackdown.

The ICC, which can prosecute individuals for the international crimes of genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, has not issued a response to Myanmar’s failure to comply with the July 27 deadline.

In response to international condemnation over the campaign of violence targeting the Rohingya, Myanmar in late July set up a four-person commission of inquiry comprised of two local and two international members to probe reported atrocities in Rakhine state.

Travel authorizations issued

Also on Thursday, Myanmar’s foreign affairs ministry issued a brief statement saying that the government had issued travel authorizations to staffers from the U.N.’s development (UNDP) and refugee (UNHCR) agencies to conduct assessment surveys in northern Rakhine state where the 2017 crackdown took place.

The agencies signed a memorandum of understanding with Myanmar in June to help return and reintegrate the Rohingya refugees, assess conditions in Rakhine for those who are contemplating returning, and support programs that benefit all communities in the multiethnic state.

The announcement came a day after the agencies issued a statement calling on the government to permit their staff to consult freely and independently on a daily basis with communities in Rakhine state, under flexible travel authorization procedures.

The UNHCR and UNDP said they submitted requests for travel authorizations on June 14 for their international staff to be based in Maungdaw district — one of three areas in Rakhine where the 2017 crackdown took place — but were still waiting for government approval.

Myanmar said the Ministry of Labor, Immigration, and Population informed the UNDP and UNHCR on Tuesday that the travel authorizations had been approved for those conducting field assessments.

Myint Thu, permanent secretary of the foreign affairs ministry, said Thursday that the government hopes that Michelle Bachelet, the former president of Chile who is the U.N.’s new human rights chief, will demonstrate more impartiality toward Myanmar’s situation than did her predecessor, who pointedly called the army campaign to drive out the Rohingya “ethnic cleansing.”

“As she is a former president, we believe she will work with impartiality on the U.N.’s human rights issues and will understand and accept the situation in developing countries,” he told RFA’s Myanmar Service, adding that the government would work with her on rights issues.

Current U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, a Jordanian whose term expires in August, has been an outspoken critic of Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya and has said that “the possibility that acts of genocide have been committed” cannot be ruled out.

In March, he asked the U.N. General Assembly to refer those in Myanmar responsible for the atrocities against the Rohingya to the ICC for prosecution and called on the Myanmar government to allow independent investigators into northern Rakhine to probe suspected acts of genocide.

That same month, the Myanmar government refused to grant visas to a U.N. Security Council-appointed fact-finding mission to investigate abuses against the Rohingya.

During his final global update to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June, Zeid said that widespread violations had continued against the Rohingya with “clear indications of well-organized, widespread and systematic attacks ... amounting possibly to acts of genocide.”

Reported by Wai Mar Tun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.