Argentine court to hear Myanmar Rohingya genocide case

Argentina’s judiciary has agreed to open a genocide case brought by Rohingya victims of atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military, in a move hailed by victims and their advocates as a historic step toward bringing the country’s ruling generals to justice.

The case was brought in Buenos Aires by a UK-based Rohingya group and six female survivors of the military’s 2017 crackdown in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where security forces killed thousands, committed rapes and drove about 750,000 members of the long-persecuted minority into Bangladesh.

“We will be looking for concrete results in terms of accountability and punishment for those who participated directly and indirectly in the genocide,” Tomás Ojea Quintana, the plaintiffs’ lawyer, told the Financial Times. “We want to identify with names the perpetrators and try to get these people brought to justice in Argentina.” 

Quintana said that the victims “really want physical testimony” from the military’s senior leadership, including Min Aung Hlaing, the military chief who oversaw the 2017 crackdown in Rakhine and who overthrew Aung San Suu Kyi’s government in a coup in February.

The court case, though set to be heard across the world from Myanmar, was brought under universal jurisdiction, the principle under which exceptionally grave crimes can be tried anywhere.

“We applaud the Argentinian judiciary for showing the courage and moral leadership to take up this case,” Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, the group that brought the case, said in an emailed statement. “Justice for decades of dehumanising and killings of Rohingya within Myanmar is now within reach.” 

The case, for which pre-trial hearings began in 2019, is part of an international push by human rights groups and the UN to gather evidence and begin seeking justice for the military’s crimes, including the 2017 crackdown in Rakhine and its killing, imprisonment and torture of thousands of people since February’s coup. The court heard pre-trial video testimony from the female victims in Bangladesh but Tun Khin said a key part of the process would be to ensure that the victims could testify in Argentina.

He said that his group would also ask the court to request information from social media companies, particularly Facebook, regarding “hate speech spread on their platforms that could have contributed to a hostile environment against the Rohingya”. 

The International Court of Justice in The Hague is already hearing a genocide case brought by The Gambia against Myanmar in 2019, in which Aung San Suu Kyi testified.

“This development brings the prospect of justice even closer to the Rohingya, something that seemed almost impossible just a few years ago,” said Kingsley Abbott of the International Commission of Jurists. “It is exactly how universal jurisdiction is supposed to work when crimes of concern to all mankind are committed around the world, so Argentina should be commended for taking this important step.” 

However, he said that Argentina would need “huge amounts of support” in pursuing the case from civil society groups and the UN’s investigative mechanism for Myanmar, and that one of the biggest challenges would come if an arrest warrant were issued.

Follow on Twitter: @JohnReedwrites

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