Media Release from the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

● Argentinean courts petitioned to open criminal investigation into Myanmar’s brutal crimes against the Rohingya

● Legal case says Aung San Suu Kyi must be investigated for complicity in the ongoing genocide

● Universal jurisdiction means horrendous crimes in Myanmar can be investigated anywhere in the world

● Prominent Argentinean human rights groups and legal expert support case

Rohingya and Latin American human rights organisations have filed a landmark case demanding criminal justice for the ongoing genocide against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, The Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) announced today.

The complaint demands that Myanmar’s top military and civilian leaders – including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi – must face justice under the international legal principle of universal jurisdiction.

“The Rohingya people are facing an existential threat. For decades, the Myanmar authorities have tried to wipe us out by confining us to ghettos, forcing us to flee our home country and killing us. The global community must act now to end this genocide and bring those responsible to justice,” said Tun Khin, President of BROUK.

“With today’s legal case, we are urging Argentina to help us in our struggle, and to investigate those guilty of atrocity crimes. These must include anyone who has abused and fuelled hatred against Rohingya – military, political and religious leaders.”

BROUK is supported by Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo (Abuelas de Plaza de Mayo) and the Foundation for Peace and Justice (Fundación Servicio Paz y Justicia), two leading Latin American human rights organisations.

The organisation is legally represented by Tomás Ojea Quintana, a prominent Argentinean human rights lawyer and the former United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar (2008- 2014).

An ongoing genocide

The case filed today details the decades of violence and oppression imposed on the Rohingya in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State.

In 2016 and 2017, the Myanmar security forces and their proxies launched vicious “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, killing thousands, committing widespread sexual violence, burning whole villages to the ground and driving some 800,000 people to flee into Bangladesh.

The violence is, however, only one part of a wider campaign of genocide. Inside Myanmar, Rohingya are trapped in a virtual open-air prison where they often cannot access basic services like education and healthcare, are effectively denied citizenship, and face severe restrictions on their freedom of movement.

Military and civilian perpetrators

In 2018, an international Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) mandated by the UN produced a comprehensive report that called for Myanmar’s senior military leadership to be tried for crimes against humanity and genocide for their actions in Rakhine State.

Today’s case echoes the FFM’s findings, and urges Argentinian courts to open an investigation into the leaders of Myanmar’s security forces, including Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief.

BROUK, however, also demands that Myanmar’s civilian leadership – including State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto political leader – are investigated for their complicity in the genocide.

The security forces’ vicious crimes have been complemented by the support and acquiescence of different civilian authorities through public policies and other means. The civilian government has played a role in confining Rohingya communities to ghettos, denying them access to basic services, and stripping them of citizenship.

Aung San Suu Kyi has not only failed to condemn or take any action to prevent the security forces’ abuses, but even frequently denied they have taken place at all.

The case urges Argentinean courts to address the criminal responsibility of Aung San Suu Kyi as well as former Presidents Htin Kyaw (2016-2018) and Thein Sein (2011-2016). It furthermore highlights a number of other political, religious leaders and business persons who have used their position of influence to fuel hatred against the Rohingya.

“The violence against Rohingya that grabbed international headlines in 2016 and 2017 did not happen in a vacuum. For decades, Rohingya have faced severe oppression inside our own country, where women, men and children live in hellish conditions. For the cycle of violence to end, it is crucial that all those responsible for the genocide – whether they wear a uniform or not – are brought to justice,” said Tun Khin.

Universal jurisdiction

All states are permitted to exercise universal jurisdiction over crimes under international law, such as crimes against humanity or genocide.

This means that universal jurisdiction allows for the ability to investigate and prosecute individuals suspected of responsibility for war crimes and crimes against humanity, torture, genocide, and enforced disappearances, regardless of where the crime was committed or the nationality of the suspect or victim.

The principle of universal jurisdiction is also enshrined in the Argentinean national legal framework, including in article 118 of the Constitution.

More than 140 countries in the world have provided for at least one case under universal jurisdiction. The principle was, for example, invoked during the arrest of the former Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet in London, UK in 1998.

“Some crimes are so serious that they concern humanity as a whole. States have an obligation to pursue these crimes no matter where they have been committed, and to make sure that no country becomes a safe haven for perpetrators. The genocide against the Rohingya is a clear-cut example of such a situation, and today we are urging Argentinean courts to send a strong message that this will not be tolerated,” said Tomás Ojea Quintana.

“During my trips to Myanmar as Special Rapporteur, I have seen first-hand the suffering of Rohingya people and other minorities. It ́s time for justice to be done”.

International justice efforts are all the more important since Myanmar has shown no political will to investigate its own security forces. An International Commission of Enquiry set up by the Myanmar government in 2018 has been widely dismissed as lacking the necessary independence and impartiality to carry out a credible investigation. With no prospects for justice in Myanmar, the FFM has urged UN Member States to pursue accountability through universal jurisdiction cases.

The two Argentinean human rights organisations supporting the case, Grandmothers of the Plaza de Mayo and Foundation for Peace and Justice, are committed to stand in solidarity with BROUK ́s calls for truth and justice.

Argentina has a track record of confronting its own dark past when tens of thousands were “disappeared” during the era of the military junta. In large parts thanks to vigorous efforts of the human rights movement, several officials of the former junta – including civilians authorities, religious leaders and directors of companies – have been convicted either for direct participation or for aiding and abetting crimes.

Argentinean courts have also taken up other universal jurisdiction cases in the past, including on abuses during the rule of Francisco Franco in Spain as well as against the Falun Gong spiritual movement in China.