(CN) – Although Myanmar is not party to the treaty that established the International Criminal Court, a panel of ICC judges ruled Thursday that the court has jurisdiction over the country’s alleged deportation of Rohingya Muslims.
ICC Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda requested a ruling on the issue from the court’s pretrial chamber back in April, and the chamber determined Thursday that jurisdiction exists because the Rohingya are allegedly being deported to Bangladesh, which is a party to the treaty.
Though the 50-page ruling does not get into the merits of the allegations, it says that ICC was founded through the Rome Statute to condemn crimes against humanity.
Reports of atrocities committed against Rohingya Muslims have been widespread for the past year.
“The chamber notes that, following their deportation, members of the Rohingya people allegedly live in appalling conditions in Bangladesh and that the authorities of Myanmar supposedly impede their return to Myanmar,” the ruling states. “If these allegations were to be established to the required threshold, preventing the return of members of the Rohingya people falls within article 7(1)(k) of the Statute. Under international human rights law, no one may be arbitrarily deprived of the right to enter one’s own country. … In this manner, the anguish of persons uprooted from their own homes and forced to leave their country is deepened. It renders the victims’ future even more uncertain and compels them to continue living in deplorable conditions.”
So far prosecutor Bensouda has reviewed 42 individual communications about the deportation allegations, “together with a number of reports and public information relating to crimes allegedly committed against members of the Rohingya people,” according to the ruling.
Within days of Bensouda requesting the chamber’s input in April, Myanmar released a statement warning that the “proposed claim for extension of jurisdiction may very well reap serious consequences.”
“Myanmar reiterates that it has not deported any individuals in the areas of concern and in fact has worked hard in collaboration with Bangladesh to repatriate those displaced from their homes,” the country said, as quoted in the chamber’s ruling.
The chamber also received a submission in May on behalf of 400 Rohingya women and children who say they were forcibly removed to Bangladesh, and Bangladesh submitted its own observations on Bensouda’s request confidentially in June.
In a footnote to the ruling, the chamber notes “that Myanmar has taken steps aimed at facilitating repatriation and is mindful of the practical difficulties encountered in their full implementation.”
While Myanmar signed a “Arrangement on Return of Displaced Persons from Rakhine State” with Bangladesh in November 2017, Bangladesh reached a settlement in April 2018 with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.
Myanmar cited its 2017 agreement with Bangladesh in the April statement. “All requirements for repatriation are in place,” it said. “Work is proceeding steadily on this front. The Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement has just visited Bangladesh to meet the displaced persons and brief them on the development, resettlement process, food supply, housing projects, vocational training, easy access to education and healthcare in Rakhine State and that Myanmar is ready for repatriation.”
The chamber’s ruling comes a week after investigators working for the top human rights body of the United Nations said Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for genocide against Rohingya Muslims.
Six individuals said to have orchestrated the crimes are called out in the report by name, marking some of the strongest language that the U.N. has used to date to denounce the violence in Myanmar since it began last August.