Rohingya Crisis Possibly Crime Against Humanity

The decision by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on Sept. 6, 2018, to investigate crimes against humanity allegedly committed by Myanmar military authorities has been welcomed by legal experts as the only way to end the ever escalating refugee crisis and human suffering of the minority Rohingya Muslims. According to media reports, over 700,000 hapless Rohingya Muslims have fled the Rhakine State and sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh to protect themselves from state sponsored executions, arson, and sexual violence.

The ICC ruling effectively empowers the chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, to initiate investigations on the systematic cleansing of the ethnic minority group. Adilur Rahman Khan, the vice president of the International Federation for Human Rights was quoted as saying “[The decision ]…offers a glimmer of hope for justice for the thousands of Rohingya victims.” He went on to say that this intervention by the ICC should begin as soon as possible to bring peace to the stateless Rohingyas scattered in over 30 makeshift camps in Bangladesh.

Kingsley Abbott, a legal adviser at the International Commission of Jurists lauded the decision by the ICC as a “significant moment” in International Law. Abbott also added that even if Myanmar is not party to the Rome Statute it will be held accountable for perpetrating crimes against humanity, which occurred on Bangladesh territory. He is of the view that this decision will help in exposing the culpability of the Myanmar government, which is led by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

In loose legal parlance, a crime against humanity is evidenced by systematic attacks aimed at a civilian population. The heinous crime is largely perpetrated by state authorities and manifests itself in the form of rape, torture, murder, and other atrocious acts that violate fundamental human rights. A United Nations report, released a week before the ICC decision, boldly condemned the “genocidal intent” of Myanmar’s military authorities and went on to state that the largely Buddhist country should be held accountable for the “gravest crimes under international law.” It is widely reported that more than 10,000 Rohingya Muslims have been murdered with close to a million people left displaced and living in fear of persecution.

However, the Myanmar government remains adamant and asserts that military authorities are only targeting Rohingya militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. In a statement soon after the ICC ruling, Zaw Htay, the spokesperson for the Myanmar government insisted that the insurgent group has attacked the police and made the Rhakine region ungovernable. He refuted media reports on the alleged crimes against humanity and said the ICC has no jurisdiction to probe the mass exodus of the Rohingya people, as the country is not a contracting State to the Rome Statute. Htay went on to say that the government is taking all necessary steps to repatriate refugees from Bangladesh and has a feasible resettlement plan for all the displaced Rohingya Muslims who fled the turbulent Rhakine State.

Meanwhile, aid agencies continue to render emergency support to the displaced families in one of the overcrowded refugee camps, Kutupalong. Safe Place International, a United States-based organization, which oversees refugee projects in Turkey, India and Greece, has started various projects in Kutupalong aimed at offering support to single mothers and widows who have been left disenfranchised by the crisis. The prime objective of the programs is to give “sustained assistance” that will equip the vulnerable community with life skills necessary to deal with the trauma stemming from the crimes against humanity perpetrated by the Myanmar military authorities.

By Shepherd Mutsvara
Edited by Jeanette Smith

New York Times: Rohingya Crisis ‘Could Have Been Handled Better’, Aung San Suu Kyi Says
Independent Online: Myanmar rejects ICC ruling on Rohingya exodus
Time: The International Criminal Court Says it Can Rule on Alleged Crimes Against Myanmar’s Rohingya
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