Argentine Court: Rohingyas testify about the horrors they faced
In a historic development for Myanmar, Rohingya women have described in an Argentine court of law, under the aegis of universal jurisdiction, how the Myanmar military carried out a brutal massacre in their village.
Speaking remotely to the Federal Criminal Appeals Court in Bueno Aires from the world's largest refugee camp in Cox's Bazar on Tuesday, the women spoke of how soldiers killed their husbands in Chuk Pyin of Myanmar's Rakhine, according to a statement from the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK (BROUK).
They said soldiers killed hundreds of people, while some women were raped before being killed. The soldiers went on to rape many other women in their village and then burned their homes to the ground.
The women themselves were victims of sexual violence by security forces in the Rakhine State before they fled to Bangladesh in 2017. The names of the victims are being withheld for safety purposes.
This is the first hearing after the BROUK in 13 November petitioned to Argentinean courts to open an investigation into the role of Myanmar's civilian and military leaders in committing genocide and crimes against humanity against the Rohingya.
Nearly 8 lakh Rohingyas fled the military crackdown in Rakhine in 2017. Earlier too, there were several waves of Rohingya influx since the 1980s from the state.
Under the principle of universal jurisdiction, such crimes can be investigated anywhere in the world regardless of where they were committed. The hearing on 17th August, 2021 forms part of this process in which the Argentinian judiciary is considering whether to take up the case.
During the hearing, the President of the of the Appeal Court Ojea Quintana said they will issue a prompt decision in the coming days. BROUK will take the case to the Argentinian Supreme Court, if necessary, Ojea said.
Since 2019, developments at the International Criminal Court (ICC) and the International Court of Justice (ICJ) have added momentum to international justice for the Rohingya genocide. At the same time, many experts – including the UN Fact-Finding Mission in Myanmar – have urged states to pursue universal jurisdiction cases against the Tatmadaw and its allies.
"This is the first time anywhere in the world that a Rohingya has a chance to sit in person in front of a court of law, impartial and independent, to talk about the crimes against us," said Tun Khin, President of BROUK, at the hearing.
This is also a reminder to the world that justice is the only way to break the cycle of violence in Myanmar. The same military that has tried to wipe out the Rohingya as a people are now in control of the country since the coup, he said.
"The Tatmadaw must face the consequences of their murderous actions. This week's hearing is not just for the Rohingya, but for all our brothers and sisters in Myanmar who have suffered through military abuse."
If the case is accepted by the Argentinian judiciary, it will be the first universal jurisdiction case related to the Rohingya crisis anywhere in the world.
The case in Argentina will cover the full range of crimes committed entirely in Myanmar against the Rohingya, including mass murder, enforced disappearances, widespread torture, sexual violence, and mass imprisonment. This is different to the ICC case, which is limited to only crimes which have at least partially been committed on Bangladeshi territory.
Among those named in the case are Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, the Tatmadaw Commander-in-Chief, currently self-appointed Prime Minister of Myanmar, and other high-ranking military officials.
"For decades, the Myanmar military has with impunity tried to wipe the Rohingya out as a people. With Myanmar both unwilling and unable to investigate itself – especially since the coup – the international community must step in and support all justice efforts," said Tun Khin.