YANGON – Myanmar’s image has been “severely damaged internationally,” said government spokesman U Zaw Htay in his response to a series of international rights groups’ efforts to prosecute the country and its leadership at the International Criminal Court (ICC), the UN’s International Court of Justice and a court in Argentina this week.
He reiterated that Myanmar stands firm in its position on the ICC, as of its statement on April 13, 2018, which rejected the court’s claims.
The spokesperson stressed that Myanmar has the political will to take action against the perpetrators if its own Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) finds human rights violations by the security forces in northern Rakhine State.
“We have the willingness to do so. That’s why we are investigating,” he said, adding that the ICOE investigation is ongoing, while the military’s court of inquiry is also doing its part.
He said these moves by the international community “have disturbed Myanmar’s own efforts on the investigation” and, as a consequence, “Myanmar’s image has been severely damaged internationally.”
The ICC on Thursday approved a prosecution request to investigate crimes against humanity against more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims, who fled from Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh after a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military following the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army’s coordinated attacks on security outposts. UN investigators say the Tatmadaw, Myanmar’s military, acted with “genocidal intent,” a claim Myanmar denies.
Judges at the ICC, the world’s only permanent war crimes court, said that although Myanmar is not a member, the court has jurisdiction to examine alleged crimes that partially took place across the border in Bangladesh, which is a member.
In a statement, the ICC said prosecutors were granted permission to examine acts that could qualify as widespread or systematic crimes against the Rohingya, including deportation—a crime against humanity—and persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion.
The ICC is now the second international court to look into alleged atrocities against the Rohingya, after Gambia on Monday filed a claim with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) — the UN’s top court for disputes between states — against Myanmar for carrying out an alleged genocide against the Muslim minority.
U Zaw Htay said “Myanmar will respond to Gambia’s claim with the ICJ in accordance with international laws.”
“We are taking the necessary steps on the issue [to respond according to international regulations],” he added.
Regarding a case filed on Wednesday in Argentina over alleged crimes against Rohingya Muslims, in which State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Army chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and the presidents of both the current and previous administrations are targeted, U Zaw Htay said Myanmar will not respond to it.
Rohingya activists in exile and Latin American human rights groups submitted the lawsuit in Argentina under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” a legal concept enshrined in many countries’ laws. The premise is 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. The complaint seeks criminal sanctions against the perpetrators, accomplices and those who have covered up what it describes as genocide.
The spokesperson said the Rohingya issue will not be solved by prosecuting Myanmar in an international court.
“It has to be solved by collaboration between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Without cooperation from the Bangladesh side, the problem will still be there. You have to understand it,” he said.
U Zaw Htay said the official Rohingya repatriation program has been unsuccessful so far mainly due to a lack of cooperation from Bangladesh.
However, he added, 415 people have voluntarily—not under the official repatriation program with the assistance of Bangladesh—returned from Bangladeshi camps to Myanmar since last November.