By: Chandrashekar Bhat
ROHINGYA refugees expelled from Myanmar in a bloody crackdown are set to testify in court for the first time on Tuesday (17) to urge a full judicial investigation into allegations of war crimes committed against them.
A military campaign in Myanmar in 2017 is believed to have killed thousands and forced some 750,000 members of the Muslim minority to flee to refugee camps in Bangladesh, bringing accounts of rape, murder and arson.
The witnesses will testify remotely to a court in Argentina, which is considering invoking the principle of “universal jurisdiction” to bring a case against Myanmar’s leaders for their action.
The legal premise holds that some acts – including war crimes and crimes against humanity – are so horrific they are not specific to one nation and can be tried anywhere.
Argentina’s courts have taken up other universal jurisdiction cases in the past, including in relation to ex-dictator Francisco Franco’s rule in Spain and the Falun Gong movement in China.
Proceedings against Myanmar and its leaders are already underway at the International Criminal Court and the UN’s International Court of Justice.
But Tuesday (17)’s hearing “will be the first time… that the Rohingya will have the opportunity to tell a court of all the atrocities they suffered”, former UN special rapporteur on Myanmar Tomas Ojea said.
Five survivors of sexual violence will testify to the Federal Criminal Appeal Court in Buenos Aires remotely from refugee camps in Bangladesh, according to activist group Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK.
“For decades, the Myanmar military has with impunity tried to wipe the Rohingya out as a people,” said Tun Khin, president of the group, which petitioned the Argentine government to open the case.
“With Myanmar both unwilling and unable to investigate itself – especially since the coup – the international community must step in and support all justice efforts.”
Myanmar denies committing genocide, justifying the 2017 operations as a means of rooting out Rohingya militants.
The Myanmar public was largely unsympathetic to the Rohingya’s plight, while activists and journalists reporting on the issues faced vitriolic abuse online.
After the military was accused of genocide, civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi travelled to The Hague to defend the generals at the UN’s top court.
Months later they deposed her in a coup.
The country has conceded some soldiers might have used “disproportionate” force in the 2017 crackdown but insists they will be investigated and prosecuted by Myanmar’s criminal justice system.