UNITED NATIONS (AP) — Four human rights groups urged the U.N. Security Council on Tuesday to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court for alleged crimes against humanity, including targeting about 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled military-led violence to Bangladesh.
Matthew Smith, head of the Asia-based group Fortify Rights, went a step further to say the ICC should also investigate “mounting evidence” of genocide against Rohingya.
He said his organization, which works in Myanmar and Bangladesh, has collected dozens of names of alleged perpetrators that go “straight to the top within the Myanmar armed forces.” He added that “there may be civilian leaders as well who may be liable for international crimes in this situation” but said Fortify Rights has focused on the military.
During counterinsurgency sweeps in Rakhine state after attacks by Rohingya insurgents on security personnel last August, Myanmar’s military was accused of widespread human rights violations, including rape, murder, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes. Thousands are believed to have died and the U.N. and U.S. officials have called the Myanmar military campaign ethnic cleansing.
The Rohingya face official and social discrimination in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, which denies most of them citizenship and basic rights because they are looked on as immigrants from Bangladesh, even though the families of many settled in Myanmar generations ago.
The four rights groups — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect and Fortify Rights — held a news conference a week after the Security Council visited Myanmar and Bangladesh for a firsthand look at the plight of the Rohingya.
Britain’s U.N. ambassador, Karen Pierce, said all council members considered the Rohingya issue “one of the most significant human rights cases that we have ever faced in the last decade, and that something needs to be done.”
But so far, the council hasn’t even been able to agree on a press statement about the trip.
Council diplomats, speaking on condition of anonymity because consultations are supposed to be kept private, said China wanted major changes to the proposed statement. China has close ties to Myanmar’s military.
The council has scheduled an open briefing on the trip for May 14.
The Security Council has referred the situations in Darfur and Libya to the ICC. But in May 2014, Russia and China cast a double-veto against a resolution approved by the 13 other council members and more than 60 countries that would have referred Syria to the international war crimes tribunal.
In its most significant pronouncement on the Rohingya, the council stressed in a presidential statement in November “the importance of undertaking transparent investigations into allegations of human rights abuses and violations ... and of holding to account all those responsible for such acts to provide justice for victims.”
Amnesty International’s Tawanda Mutasah, the group’s senior director for international law and policy, said “increasingly there’s no option but for the international community to face the question of the referral to the ICC.”
He noted the Geneva-based U.N. Human Rights Council adopted a strong resolution on March 23 that includes the possibility of a Security Council referral to the ICC.
Savita Pawnday, deputy executive director of the Global Center for the Responsibility to Protect, urged council members “who feel strongly” about the plight of the Rohingya to draft a resolution to refer Myanmar to the ICC.
“We believe that a threat of a veto is no excuse for inaction,” she said.
Param-Preet Singh, associate director of international justice at Human Rights Watch, said diplomacy hasn’t been working, and inaction “gives the Security Council a free pass.”
“Time and again Myanmar authorities have shown themselves to be completely unwilling to even acknowledge the crimes alleged against its security forces and military, let alone take steps to bring those responsible to book,” she said. “The authorities in Myanmar are incapable of holding themselves to account so the clock is ticking to act.”