YANGON (Reuters) – Myanmar said on Thursday a request by the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor to seek jurisdiction over suspected deportations of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh was “meritless and should be dismissed”.
Judges at the court had asked Myanmar to respond to the request by July 27. The office of government leader Aung San Suu Kyi outlined reasons why Myanmar has declined to engage with the court on the matter and why it would not submit a response.
“The request by the prosecutor may be interpreted as an indirect attempt to acquire jurisdiction over Myanmar which is not a State Party to the Rome Statute,” the office said in a statement, referring to the ICC’s founding treaty.
Reuters was not able to immediately reach the ICC for comment.
The jurisdiction of the world’s first permanent war crimes court is limited to crimes committed on the territory of member states, or in cases referred to it by the U.N. Security Council.
But ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has asked the court to look into the Rohingya crisis and the court has sought the views of Bangladesh on the “exercise of territorial jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of members of the Rohingya people from Myanmar into Bangladesh”.
Suu Kyi’s office said Myanmar was “under no obligation to enter into litigation with the prosecutor” and setting the jurisdiction over the case would “set a dangerous precedent whereby future populistic causes and complaints against non-State Parties … may be litigated.”
Myanmar has also alleged procedural irregularities and lack of transparency on the court’s part.
Bensouda has said that, given the cross-border nature of the crime of deportation, a ruling in favour of ICC jurisdiction would be in line with established legal principles.
However, she acknowledged uncertainty around the definition of the crime of deportation and limits of the court’s jurisdiction.
About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims, according to U.N. estimates, fled from Buddhist-majority Myanmar to Bangladesh after a military crackdown in August 2017 that the United Nations has called ethnic cleansing.
Refugees have reported killings, rape and arson on a large scale, but Myanmar has denied nearly all of the accusations, saying it waged a legitimate counter-insurgency operation after coming under attack from Rohingya militants.
Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Editing by Robert Birsel