Burma: ICC seeks power to investigate, prosecute crimes against humanity
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Burma: ICC seeks power to investigate, prosecute crimes against humanity

A PROSECUTOR from the international criminal court (ICC) is seeking jurisdiction over the “deportation” of Rohingya people from Burma to Bangladesh, with the aim of investigating and prosecuting those responsible.

In a filing published on Monday, the court prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, said: “This is not an abstract question but a concrete one, affecting whether the court may exercise jurisdiction … to investigate and, if necessary, prosecute.”

SEE ALSO: UN says Burma not ready for return of Rohingya refugees

While Bangladesh is a member of the ICC, Burma is not, raising questions over whether the court is able to investigate possible crimes against humanity taking place in Rakhine State.

The prosecutor is seeking a ruling to “verify that the Court has territorial jurisdiction when persons are deported from the territory of a State which is not a party to the Statute directly into the territory of a State which is a party to the Statute.” 

Bensouda argued that, given the cross-border nature of the crime of deportation, a ruling in favour of ICC jurisdiction would be in line with established legal principles.

But she acknowledged uncertainty around the definition of the crime of deportation and limits of the court’s jurisdiction.

This is the first request of its kind filed at the court. Bensouda has asked for a hearing for her arguments to be heard, along with other interested parties.

Congolese judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua is assigned to consider the request.

The United Nations estimates close to 700,000 Rohingya Muslim have fled across the border to neighbouring Bangladesh since August after militant attacks triggered a military crackdown that the United Nations has said is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

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While a repatriation deal between the Burmese and Bangladeshi government has been agreed, the UN believes Burma is not ready to accept them due to sub-standard facilities and an inability to ensure their safety.

Burma has repeatedly denied the accusations of ethnic cleansing, maintaining that it is carrying out a legitimate campaign against armed terrorists who attacked government forces. If an investigation were to go ahead, Burma is unlikely to cooperate.