More than 130 members of parliament, across five countries in south-east Asia, have demanded that Myanmar is investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC), the most united condemnation from the region since the violence began against the Rohingya a year ago. In a joint statement released by ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR), they called for the Myanmar military to be “brought to justice” for its “ murderous operation in Rakhine State.” Speaking on behalf of those 132 who had issued the statement, APHR member Charles Santiago, a Malaysian politician in the ruling coalition, said, “As Myanmar is clearly both unwilling and unable to investigate itself, we are now at a stage where the international community must step in to ensure accountability.” He added: “I stand together with 131 of my elected peers in calling on the members of the UNSC to immediately refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC. Those in Myanmar responsible for these horrific crimes must be held to account; they cannot be left free to commit the same abuses again in the future.”
The united call comes just ahead of the first anniversary of the start of the military campaign of violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine state. Since that began 700,000 people have fled over the border to Bangladesh, and 25,000 people have been killed, with villages razed to the ground and women sexually assaulted and raped. The violence has been described as ethnic cleansing by the UN; a charge Myanmar denies. ASEAN, an intergovernmental organisation made up of ten countries in south-east Asia, has been accused of turning a blind eye to the violence over the past year, and has shied away from adopting a strong line on the crisis, even as boats of Rohingya refugees have washed up on the shores of Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia. But APHR board member, Eva Kusuma Sundari, a member of the Indonesian House of Representatives, said it was a time that ASEAN countries “set aside their destructive ‘non-interference’ policy and take genuine action. Justice for the Rohingya is an issue that goes beyond regional politics – it concerns humanity as a whole,” she said. “We cannot allow these atrocities to take place in one of our member countries with complete impunity.” Though a large number of politicians put their names to the statement, these 132 politicians came from just five countries – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines Timor Leste and Singapore – indicating that there is still regional reluctance to speak out against Myanmar.
The ICC is currently in discussion over whether it has the legal basis to open an investigation into the crimes committed in Rakhine. While Bangladesh is a member state, which gives the ICC power to investigate crimes committed there, Myanmar is not and denies any ethnic cleansing was carried out against the Rohingya. In June a coalition of Bangladeshi organisations sent a body of evidence to ICC prosecutors, documenting torture, rape and indiscriminate killing by the Myanmar military. The legal argument for an ICC investigation is being led by prosecutor Fatou Bensouda who argues the cross-border nature of the forced deportation of the Rohingya into Bangladesh means it could legally fall within the ICC’s remit. In a move perceived as an attempt to appease the international community in the wake of the push for an ICC investigation, the Myanmar government announced in July it was carrying out another commission of inquiry to probe allegations of human rights abuses in Rakhine state.
Credit: Hannah Ellis-Petersen for The Guardian, 24 August 2018.