Judges at the international criminal court (ICC) have authorised a full-scale investigation into allegations of mass persecution and crimes against humanity that forced at least 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh.
The ruling, which sets a significant precedent in expanding the jurisdiction of the war crimes court, is the second move against Myanmar this week at international tribunals in The Hague.
On Monday, a submission was made by the Gambia to the international court of justice (ICJ) accusing Myanmar of genocide through the murder, rape and destruction of communities in the country’s western Rakhine state.
The ICC decision, announced on Thursday, follows a request by the court’s chief prosecutor, Fatou Bensouda, earlier this year for a formal investigation into alleged ethnic cleansing since 2016.
Myanmar is not a party to the Rome statute that established the ICC, but its neighbour, Bangladesh, has accepted the court’s jurisdiction.
By declaring that the ICC exercises jurisdiction over crimes where part of the alleged criminal conduct – in this case mass deportation – takes place on the territory of a state party, the ICC has extended its international law-enforcement role.
A similar argument has been presented at the ICC on behalf of Syrian refugees who have been forced to flee to neighbouring Jordan, which, like Bangladesh, is a signatory to the Rome statute.
In its decision on Thursday, the ICC authorised the prosecutor to “proceed with an investigation for the alleged crimes within the ICC’s jurisdiction in the situation in the People’s Republic of Bangladesh/Republic of the Union of Myanmar”.