Former democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is among several top Myanmar officials named Wednesday in a case filed in Argentina for crimes against Rohingya Muslims, the first time the Nobel Laureate has been legally targeted over the crisis.
Rohingya 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.
“This complaint seeks the criminal sanction of the perpetrators, accomplices and cover-ups of the genocide. We are doing it through Argentina because they have no other possibility of filing the criminal complaint anywhere else,” lawyer Tomas Ojea told AFP.
The lawsuit demands top military and political leaders – including army chief Min Aung Hlaing and civilian leader Suu Kyi – face justice over the “existential threat” faced by the Rohingya Muslim minority.
“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,” said Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK).
Argentinean courts have taken up other universal jurisdiction cases, including in relation to ex-dictator Francisco Franco’s rule in Spain and the Falun Gong movement in China.
Myanmar faces mounting legal pressure in courts around the world for the 2017 expulsion of the Rohingya.
A separate case was filed Monday against Myanmar by The Gambia at the UN’s top court in The Hague.
And in a third legal process, prosecutors at the International Criminal Court last year launched preliminary investigations in Bangladesh, where the Rohinga are refugees.
Mr Ojea said he hoped international arrest warrants would be issued as a result of the suit. However, the crime of genocide was not specifically included as it is in not in Argentina’s penal code.
UN investigators last year branded the 2017 military crackdown in Myanmar as “genocide” after some 740,000 from the Muslim minority were driven over the border into Bangladeshi refugee camps.
But rights groups pushing the case in Argentina demand the civilian leadership must also be investigated for complicity alongside top generals.
They accuse the government of a failure to condemn operations, assistance in the cover-up and a role in confining Rohingya communities to ghettos.
Mr Ojea, who is leading the case, acted as UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar between 2008 and 2014.
His collaboration is thought to be one reason why the case has been filed in Argentina.
“I have seen first-hand the suffering of Rohingya people,” Mr Ojea said. “It’s time for justice to be done.”