International Criminal Court Says It Has Jurisdiction Over Crimes Committed Against Rohingya in Myanmar
An elderly Rohingya man in the Kutapalong camp near Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh (Photo: DFID)

The International Criminal Court ruled on Thursday, September 6 that it is able to exercise jurisdiction over allegations of the forced exodus of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh as a possible crime against humanity.

The international court's ruling comes amid a question of jurisdiction since Myanmar is not a member of the Hague-based court and the Rome Statute which underpins the ICC. However, Bangladesh is a signatory and is hosting close to 7 lakh Rohingya, which the court said "the cross-border nature of deportation is enough basis for jurisdiction."

Prosecutors, who have not launched any formal case related to the crimes committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, had asked judges for an advisory opinion on the legally complicated questions whether the actions committed by Myanmar’s military could fall under the tribunal's jurisdiction.

The ICC's "pre-trial chamber... decided by majority the court may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportations of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh," the Hague-based tribunal said in a statement.

ICC's chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda had asked judges at the international criminal court to rule whether she could investigate the deportations as a "crime against humanity". Bensouda said it "is not completed until the bullet (fired in one state) strikes and kills the victim (standing in another state)".

The Southeast Asian nation voiced "serious concern" over the prosecutor's move, saying that the ICC's charter in fact did not state that it had jurisdiction to investigate a country that had not signed up to the Rome Statute that governs the court.

The ruling on Thursday leaves the path open for the prosecutor to announce the formal opening of a preliminary investigation into the matter and a chance to see if there is enough evidence to open a full-blown probe against Myanmar’s military generals, which could eventually lead to a trial.

But the road to a tribunal will be long and complex, with China likely try to thwart any prosecution of its ally at the world's only permament war crimes court.

According to the United Nations, over 700,000 Rohingyas have fled Myanmar and entered Bangladesh since August 25th 2017 allegedly due to atrocities committed by the Myanmar Army. In its recently released report, the UN says the crimes committed against the Rohingya can be prosecuted as genocidal crimes.