By MALEA MARTIN
CLAREMONT, Calif. — In the wake of U.N. reports alleging massive human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, the Canadian Parliament Thursday declared the abuses genocide and called on the U.N. Security Council to refer the case to the International Criminal Court.
The motion comes shortly after the Netherlands-based ICC’s announcement that hundreds of thousands of alleged deportations in Myanmar fall under its jurisdiction. While Myanmar itself is not a state party of the ICC, the majority of the alleged deportations of the Rohingya have been to Bangladesh.
“The crime of deportation is a particular crime because it requires sending somebody from one state to another state,” Harvard Law School professor and ICC expert Alex Whiting said in an interview Friday. “The Court has jurisdiction because that conduct takes place in Bangladesh, a state party.”
Shortly after the ICC’s announcement earlier this month, the prosecutor declared that the Court will begin its preliminary examination regarding the reported deportations. An ethnic minority denied citizenship in Myanmar, about 725,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh in the past year alone. In addition to the deportations, the reported abuses include rapes, village burnings and extrajudicial killings.
Although the Court has started a preliminary investigation, Canada’s motion calls for a different approach: that the U.N. Security Council refer the case to the International Criminal Court, which would allow the Court to investigate all the charges, while the preliminary investigation is limited to deportation charges.
“The Court has jurisdiction where the crimes are committed on the territory of a state party or by a national of a state party, but they also have jurisdiction if the Security Council makes a referral,” Whiting said. If reports are correct that mass killings and rape have occurred on Myanmar soil, then the Court would need a Security Council referral in order to investigate the House of Commons’ allegations of genocide.
Under the ICC Rome Statute, genocide is defined as killing or causing serious harm to a national, ethnical, racial or religious group. In accordance with this definition, more than 100 Canadian legal experts, civil-society organizations and human rights advocates signed a letter to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau urging the Canadian Parliament to designate the Rohingya crisis as genocide.
Canada’s decision is a “big milestone,” but also long overdue, Raiss Tinmaung, a Rohingya-Canadian and a signatory of the letter, told The Globe and Mail. For his part, Whiting said he’s “not particularly optimistic that there will be a referral because both Russia and China will likely veto such a referral, perhaps even the United States.”
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton reflected Whiting’s prediction when he recently threatened U.S. withdrawal of funding of the ICC should the Court decide to investigate torture allegations in Afghanistan. If such sanctions occur, the ability to hold Myanmar accountable through ICC mechanisms may be put in jeopardy, as Washington is a significant funder of the Court. U.S. President Donald Trump reiterated Bolton’s sentiments at the U.N. General Assembly Tuesday, stating that the Court “has no legitimacy.”
Myanmar itself continues to deny any organized abuse against the Rohingya people. Citing that the country has not yet allowed any U.N. officials into the country, “That’s why we don’t agree (to) and accept any resolutions made by the [U.N.] Human Rights Council,” said Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay in an interview published in state media last month.
(Written by Malea Martin; Sept. 28, 2018)