Rights group calls for ICC probe into Myanmar crackdown

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Aung San Suu Kyi

FILE – Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi waits to address judges of the International Court of Justice on the second day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, on Dec. 11, 2019. A human rights group has called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into the crackdown on dissent by Myanmar’s military rulers, alleging that the leader of the February coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi is responsible for widespread and systematic torture. (AP Photo/Peter Dejong, File)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — A human rights group has called on the International Criminal Court to open an investigation into the crackdown on dissent by Myanmar’s military rulers, alleging that the leader of the February coup in the Southeast Asian nation is responsible for widespread and systematic torture.

The Myanmar Accountability Project said in a statement on Friday that there was sufficient evidence to open an investigation into the head of the country’s military-installed government, Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing.

“The leader of the illegal coup is criminally responsible for the security forces under his command committing mass atrocity crimes,” project director Chris Gunness said.

The documents filed with prosecutors at the court in The Hague were not made public, but Gunness said they contain testimony from a defector “that shows responsibility for the torture goes all the way up to Min Aung Hlaing himself.”

Gunness said the testimony corroborates findings by the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which was established by the U.N. Human Rights Council.

The head of the mechanism, Nicholas Koumjian, said in November that preliminary evidence collected since the military seized power on Feb. 1 shows a widespread and systematic attack on civilians “amounting to crimes against humanity.”

Koumjian said his organization had received over 200,000 communications since the army takeover and has collected over 1.5 million items of evidence that were being analyzed “so that one day those most responsible for the serious international crimes in Myanmar will be brought to account.”

Earlier this week, witnesses and other sources said that Myanmar government troops rounded up villagers, some believed to be children, tied them up and slaughtered them. A video of the aftermath of Tuesday’s assault — apparently carried out in retaliation for an attack on a military convoy — showed the charred bodies of 11 people lying in a circle amid what appeared to be the remains of a hut.

Myanmar’s military-installed government described the reports as “fake news.”

Myanmar is not one of the International Criminal Court’s 123 member states, meaning the Netherlands-based court does not automatically have jurisdiction over crimes committed there. However, Myanmar’s self-styled National Unity Government sent a declaration to the court in July saying it accepted the ICC’s jurisdiction dating back to 2002, when the global court started work.

“So the question is, will (ICC prosecutor) Karim Khan accept the declaration of the NUG?” Gunness told The Associated Press. “We believe there is strong diplomatic, legal justification for the ICC moving ahead with an investigation.”

The ICC prosecution office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The National Unity Government bills itself as the country’s legitimate administrative body, as opposed to the the State Administration Council, the military-installed junta that came to power by force. The National Unity Government stakes its claim to legitimacy to its appointment by the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, a body formed in the days following the coup by elected lawmakers who were prevented by the army from taking their seats.

The United Nations General Assembly approved a resolution on Monday delaying action on requests by Myanmar’s military junta — and Afghanistan’s Taliban rulers — to take their countries’ seats at the United Nations, a decision that leaves the ambassadors from the two countries’ ousted governments in their jobs.

The International Criminal Court already is investigating mass expulsions of members of the Rohingya ethnic minority by the Myanmar military as a possible crime against humanity. However, the court based its jurisdiction in that case on the fact that hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were forced over the border into neighboring Bangladesh, which is an ICC member.

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