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ICC gives Myanmar deadline over Rohingya case jurisdiction

ICC gives Myanmar until July 27 to respond to a request on whether it should exercise jurisdiction over alleged crimes.

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has given Myanmar just over a month to respond to a prosecution request that it consider a case on the alleged deportation of hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya to Bangladesh. 

On Friday, The Guardian newspaper published details from evidence that has been sent to the ICC and forms part of the investigation. 

The document included accounts from a 10-year-old girl who was repeatedly gang-raped after her family was shot dead and a 25-year-old woman whose family was locked inside a house that was set on fire by soldiers. 

The ICC published a decision on Thursday that gives authorities in Myanmar until July 27 to respond to an earlier request for the ICC to exercise jurisdiction over the alleged crimes. 

The court has no jurisdiction in Myanmar, which is not a member state of the international tribunal.

But prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has argued that the crossing of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh, which is a party, means the tribunal could seek powers of jurisdiction nonetheless.

The ICC decision asks Myanmar to submit their observations on the court's jurisdiction and the circumstances surrounding the border crossing of Rohingya into Bangladesh. 

"Considering that the crime of deportation is alleged to have commenced on the territory of Myanmar, the chamber deems it appropriate to seek observations from the competent authorities of Myanmar on the prosecutor's request," the ICC decision said. 

New legal theory

Speaking from Bangkok, Thailand, analyst Benjamin Zawacki said the prosecutor is putting forward "a new legal theory". 

He said cases typically come to the ICC when a member state requests the court exercise jurisdiction, or when the UN Security Council refers a case. 

"We all expect [Myanmar] will refuse jurisdiction before the end of next month," he said.

The UN Security Council has not referred the case to the ICC, meaning the prosecutor had "no choice but to put forth a new legal theory," Zawacki said. 

"We need to wait to see whether or not the judges of the ICC accept it. 

"If the judges accept the legal theory as being valid, [Bensouda] will presumably move forward with her investigation in hopes of identifying perpetrators of these grave international crimes and eventually try to prosecute them and hold them accountable." 

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh since August 2017.

Myanmar's security forces have been accused of rape, killing, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes.

The UN Commissioner for Human Rights has called the Rohingya crisis "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing".


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