This blog was jointly written by Amanda Ghahremani, the Legal Director of Canadian Centre for International Justice, Fannie Lafontaine, a professor at Université Laval and Canada Research Chair on International Criminal Justice and Human Rights, and Mark Kersten, a Fellow at the Munk School of Global Affairs and Deputy Director of the Wayamo Foundation. All are members of the Canadian Partnership for International Justice. This opinion is supported by the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies and Avocats sans Frontières Canada. A version of this article was originally posted at the Huffington Post (in both French and English).
Despite the deportation of hundreds of thousands of civilians as well as allegations of genocide and ethnic cleansing, the Rohingya people have been denied recourse to justice and accountability. Some creative and ground-breaking thinking at the International Criminal Court (ICC) may just change that. Now, Canada has a unique opportunity to punch above its weight and make an indelible and lasting commitment to justice for a people who desperately deserve it.
On 6 September, judges at the ICC ruled that the Court has jurisdiction to investigate the crime of deportation committed by Myanmar’s army against the Rohingya, who have been forced to flee the country into neighbouring Bangladesh. This followed numerous legal interventions by experts, including the Canadian Partnership for International Justice, of which we are members, in support of this outcome.
The decision was not uncontroversial. But the ICC’s chief Prosecutor successfully argued that, because deportation is a crime initiated on the territory of a non-member state of the ICC (Myanmar) but completed in a member-state (Bangladesh), it gave the Court jurisdiction to investigate. With a dithering United Nations Security Council and no regional tribunal set up to mete justice, the ICC’s move represents the best opportunity to achieve a degree of accountability for atrocities committed against the Rohingya people.
The ICC’s decision comes on the heels of a scathing UN report published this month detailing violent measures taken by Myanmar’s army to remove and ethnically cleanse the Rohingya and other minorities in the country. The UN Report specifically recommended that top Myanmar military officials be investigated and prosecuted for international crimes. With the ICC’s ruling, this may become a reality.
The UN report, which highlighted forceful measures employed by the Myanmar army, including extrajudicial killings, rape, and torture – crimes that amount to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes – was rightfully met with outrage in Canada. Prominent lawyers and human rights defenders publicly called on the government to revoke nominal Burmese President Ang Sun Suu Kyi’s honorary Canadian citizenship after Suu Kyi was criticized for failing to use her “moral authority” to prevent the escalating violence.
But Canada has a role to play beyond symbolic measures. As members of a network of Canadian scholars and lawyers working on international justice, known as the Canadian Partnership for International Justice, we believe that Canada should absolutely play a leadership role and we urge the Canadian government to champion accountability initiatives within the international community to address the genocide unfolding before our eyes. Continue reading