Rohingya genocide survivors will get historic day in court
Media release from Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
For Immediate release: 16th August 2021
Rohingya genocide survivors will this week for the first time be able to share their stories in a court of law anywhere in the world, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) said ahead of a historic hearing in Argentina.
Rohingya victims of the Myanmar military’s brutality, including five survivors of sexual violence, will testify during a court hearing at the Federal Criminal Appeal Court in Buenos Aires on Tuesday 17 August. The hearing comes as the Argentinian judiciary considers taking up a genocide case against the Myanmar military leadership under the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction.
“This week’s hearing marks a historic moment for the Rohingya people. After decades of fighting for justice for atrocity crimes, survivors will finally get a chance to tell a court what they have been through. This gives us hope that one day there will be accountability for the Tatmadaw’s – the Myanmar military’s - genocide against our people,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.
“This is also a reminder to the world that justice is the only way to break the cycle of violence in Myanmar. The same military that has tried to wipe out the Rohingya as a people are now in control of the country since the coup. The Tatmadaw must face the consequences of their murderous actions. This week’s hearing is not just for the Rohingya, but for all our brothers and sisters in Myanmar who have suffered through military abuse.”
On 13 November 2019, BROUK petitioned Argentinean courts to open an investigation into the role of Myanmar’s civilian and military leaders in committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya. Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, such crimes can be investigated anywhere in the world regardless of where they were committed.
Since 2019, developments at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have added momentum to international justice for the Rohingya genocide. At the same time, many experts – including the UN Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar – have urged states to pursue universal jurisdiction cases against the Tatmadaw and its allies.
The Argentinian judiciary is still considering whether to take up the case, and this week’s hearing forms part of this process. Rohingya survivors will testify to their experiences, including five women who were victims of sexual violence in one of the villages devastated by security forces in Rakhine State before fleeing into Bangladesh in 2017. The names of the victims, who will speak remotely from refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, are being withheld for their own safety.
If the case is accepted by the Argentinian judiciary, it will be the first universal jurisdiction case related to the situation of the Rohingya anywhere in the world. The case in Argentina will cover the full range of crimes committed entirely in Myanmar against the Rohingya, including mass murder, enforced disappearances, widespread torture, sexual violence, and mass imprisonment. This is different to the ICC case, which is limited to only crimes which have at least partially been committed on Bangladeshi territory.
Among those named in the case are Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief, currently self-appointed Prime Minister of Myanmar, and other high-ranking military officials.
“For decades, the Myanmar military has with impunity tried to wipe the Rohingya out as a people. With Myanmar both unwilling and unable to investigate itself – especially since the coup - the international community must step in and support all justice efforts,” said Tun Khin.
“A universal jurisdiction case in Argentina would show that accountability is possible. We also urge other countries to immediately explore opening similar cases to show those responsible for the genocide that there are no safe havens anywhere.”
About universal jurisdiction
Universal jurisdiction is based on the principle that some crimes are so horrific that they concern humanity as a whole, and can be tried anywhere regardless of where they have been committed. All states are permitted to exercise universal jurisdiction over certain crimes under international law, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity or genocide.
This allows for the ability to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of responsibility for crimes including torture, murder, and enforced disappearances, regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the suspect or victim.
The principle is also enshrined in the Argentinean national legal framework, including in article 118 of the Constitution, which has led to other cases being processed in the country under universal jurisdiction. Argentina has in addition received global recognition for its own outstanding transitional justice process to address crimes committed during the military regime in the 1970s.
BROUK is legally represented in the case by the Argentinian Tomás Ojea Quintana, who visited Rakhine State many times during his tenure (2008-2014) as UN Special rapporteur on Myanmar. BROUK is further supported in the case by the Argentinean human rights NGOs Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Asociación Civil Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo) and Foundation for Peace and Justice (Servicio Paz y Justicia), founded by the Nobel Peace Prize Winner Adolfo Pérez Esquivel.
The universal jurisdiction case by BROUK has received widespread international support, including from the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, the Office of the Prosecutor of the ICC, Amnesty International Argentina, The Docket (Clooney Foundation for Justice), TRIAL International, Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and Victims Advocate International, Baltazar Garzon Foundation.
“Universal Jurisdiction, the International Criminal Court, and the Rohingya Genocide”, BROUK opinion article, 23 October 2020
“Argentinean Judiciary Moves Closer To Opening Case Against Myanmar Over Rohingya Genocide”, BROUK press release, 1 June 2020.
“Argentinean Courts Urged To Prosecute Senior Myanmar Military And Government Officials For The Rohingya Genocide”, BROUK press release, 13 November 2019.