Myanmar is facing a barrage of legal challenges from all over the world in an attempt to hold it accountable over the alleged genocide against its Rohingya Muslim population. The Gambia this week launched a case at the UN’s top court while rights groups have filed a separate lawsuit in Argentina. Meanwhile investigations at the International Criminal Court (ICC) continue into the 2017 military crackdown that forced some 740,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh. Here are some of the different legal challenges in the complex search for justice:
GENERALS IN THE DOCK?
The ICC in the Hague investigates war crimes and is focused on individual, not state, responsibility. The UNSC needs to refer Myanmar to the court for full proceedings to start. Myanmar has not signed up to the ICC, but last year the court launched preliminary investigations on the basis that Bangladesh -- where the Rohingya are refugees -- is a member. This could ultimately lead to arrest warrants being issued for Myanmar’s generals. But the process is lengthy, requiring participation from Bangladesh and -- somewhat implausibly -- Myanmar to hand over suspects.
THE GAMBIAN GAMBIT
The UN’s top court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), is also based in The Hague and was set up after World War II to rule on disagreements between member states. It normally deals with issues of international law such as border disputes, but can also rule on alleged breaches of UN conventions. The Gambia, a tiny, mainly-Muslim state, filed a case on behalf of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) accusing Myanmar of breaching the 1948 UN Genocide Convention. Leading the charge is Gambian justice minister Abubacarr Tambadou, a former genocide prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. The case will likely take years -- a previous genocide case brought by Bosnia against Serbia lasted 14 years.
THE ARGENTINA OPTION
On Wednesday, a case was filed by rights groups in Argentina against members of the Myanmar military and, notably, civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The activists say Suu Kyi and her government are complicit in atrocities for failing to condemn the army’s actions and helping cover them up. On board -- and a reason for the faraway location -- is heavyweight Argentine human rights lawyer Tomas Ojea, who was previously UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar. Dozens of such cases are under way around the world, many in relation to alleged atrocities in Syria with several suspected war criminals already charged and arrested.
HOW IS MYANMAR RESPONDING?
Myanmar has long denied accusations it committed ethnic cleansing or genocide. It has yet to comment on the latest cases filed at the ICJ and in Argentina, but has previously condemned such action as “interference”. The country insists its own investigative committee is able to look into alleged atrocities -- even though critics dismiss the panel as toothless and biased. The Rohingya garner little empathy inside Myanmar with many people supporting the 2017 military campaign, buying the official line it was a necessary defence against militants and that the Muslim minority are not citizens.