The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor has announced she is launching a preliminary investigation into the deportations of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Burma into Bangladesh.
Fatou Bensouda said in a written statement and video message that she has begun a probe formally known as a preliminary examination to establish if there is enough evidence to merit a full-blown investigation.
Ms Bensouda said she will look at reports of “a number of alleged coercive acts having resulted in the forced displacement of the Rohingya people, including deprivation of fundamental rights, killing, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, destruction and looting”.
Burma’s military has been accused of widespread rights violations, including rape, murder, torture and the burning of Rohingya villages, leading about 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh since August last year.
Ms Bensouda’s announcement came less than two weeks after judges at the court gave her authorisation to investigate the deportations despite Burma not being a member state of the court.
Judges said in their landmark ruling that because part of the alleged crime of deportation happened on the territory of Bangladesh, which is a member of the court, Ms Bensouda has jurisdiction.
Judges urged her to conclude her preliminary examination “within a reasonable time”.
The ICC is a court of last resort, which steps in only when national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute alleged crimes.
Ms Bensouda said prosecutors “will be engaging with the national authorities concerned with a view to discussing and assessing any relevant investigation and prosecution at the national level”.
Ms Bensouda’s announcement came on the day that UN-backed investigators presented a report that painted a grim picture of crimes against Rohingya.
Such reports will likely be closely studied in Ms Bensouda’s probe.
The fact-finding team presented the report to the UN-supported Human Rights Council in Geneva.
It reiterated earlier findings that some top Burma military leaders should be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya during a deadly crackdown that erupted in August 2017 following militant attacks on security posts in Rakhine state.
Burma’s new ambassador in Geneva lashed out at what he called a “one-sided” report.