Media Release from Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
For Immediate Release: 18th August 2021
In a historic development for Myanmar, Rohingya women described in a court of law, under the aegis of universal jurisdiction, how the Myanmar military carried out a brutal massacre in their village.
Speaking remotely to the Federal Criminal Appeals Court in Bueno Aires, Argentina, from the world’s largest refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, the women told how soldiers killed their husbands in Chuk Pyin, Rakhine, Myanmar. They said soldiers killed hundreds of people, some women were raped before being killed. The soldiers went on to rape many other women in their village and then burned their homes to the ground.
The women were themselves victims of sexual violence by security forces in Rakhine State before they fled to Bangladesh in 2017. The names of the victims are being withheld for safety reasons.
“This is a historic moment for Rohingya brothers and sisters everywhere. We have been fighting for justice for the genocide against us for decades, but this is the first time anywhere in the world that a Rohingya has a chance to sit in person in front of a court of law, impartial and independent, to talk about the crimes against us,” said Tun Khin, President of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) at the hearing.
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. The hearing on 17th August 2021 forms part of this process in which the Argentinian judiciary is considering whether to take up the case.
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.
“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,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.
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.”
“We believe that the Court understood very well that the decision that is needed here is to open up the investigation. At the same time, the court was also very open in taking the opportunity to listen to the stories of the Rohingya victims. We should clarify that this wasn’t a hearing to listen to evidence at all, it was a technical hearing. Therefore, the fact that they took time to listen to the stories of the Rohingyas is a sign that the court was very open to our request to open the investigation. The court listened to the legal arguments but also, even though the hearing was not planned for that, they agreed to listen to the victims, to further understand what is at stake here, which is the genocide against the Rohingyas,” said Tomás Ojea Quintana, former UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar who is legal counsel for BROUK in this case.
“Justice inside Myanmar is unfortunately impossible. For years, Myanmar has proven that it is both unwilling and unable to investigate itself – not a single person has been held meaningfully to account for crimes against the Rohingya. This is especially true today, six months after the military took power violently in Myanmar on 1 February 2021. The military has since committed widespread crimes against humanity against all ethnic minorities The situation in Rakhine is extremely dire with acts of genocide continuing,” Tun Khin added.
Tun Khin also expressed his appreciation for the country of Argentina. “Argentina is an example to the world when it comes to the long and arduous process to seek truth and justice. I am familiar with the Argentine experience, how you have dealt with your own past, and how the country incorporates basic international principles for the good of humanity such as the universal jurisdiction principle.”
During the hearing, the President of the of the Appeal Court said that they will issue a prompt decision, expected in the coming days. Ojea Quintana has said BROUK will take the case to the Argentinian Supreme Court, if necessary.
For more information, please contact Tun Khin +44 (0)7888714866.