Myanmar says 'seriously concerned' over war crimes prosecutor move on Rohingya jurisdiction

YANGON (Reuters) - The government of Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi expressed “serious concern” on Friday over a move by the International Criminal Court prosecutor seeking jurisdiction over alleged deportations of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Since August, nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled a brutal military crackdown in Myanmar, the United Nations and aid agencies have said.

The refugees have reported killings, rape and arson on a large scale. The United States and the United Nations have described the situation as ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar has denied nearly all allegations, saying it waged a legitimate counter-insurgency operation. The government has said the army crackdown was provoked by the attacks of Rohingya militants on more than two dozen police posts and an army base last August.

In a filing made public on Monday, Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda asked the court to rule whether it has jurisdiction over the alleged deportations.

An affirmative decision could pave the way for her to investigate the alleged deportations as a possible crime against humanity. One reason for the question over jurisdiction is that, while Bangladesh is a member of the court, Myanmar is not.

“The Government of Myanmar expresses serious concern on the news regarding the application by the International Criminal Court (ICC) Prosecutor to claim jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Muslims from Rakhine to Bangladesh,” the administration said in a statement.

In her application, Bensouda argued that, given the cross-border nature of the crime of deportation, a ruling in favor of ICC jurisdiction would be in line with established legal principles.

“Nowhere in the ICC charter does it say the court has jurisdiction over states which have not accepted that jurisdiction. Furthermore, the 1969 UN Vienna Convention on International Treaties states that no treaty can be imposed on a country that has not ratified it,” the Myanmar government said in its statement.

Bensouda was trying “to override the principle of national sovereignty and non-interference in the internal affairs of other states, in contrary to the principle enshrined in the UN charter and recalled in the ICC charter’s preamble,” it said.

In a statement late on Friday, the prosecutor’s office said the fact that Bensouda was seeking a judicial opinion whether the ICC had jurisdiction over alleged Rohingya deportations showed the carefulness of her approach.

The prosecutor is required to “robustly” prosecute war crimes and crimes against humanity, but “with full respect for the sovereignty of states and the limits of its jurisdiction”, it said in an emailed response to Reuters.

While Myanmar is not a member of the ICC, Bangladesh is, it said, adding, “An essential element of the alleged crime takes place on the territory of Bangladesh.”

The Myanmar government said in its statement it was working on repatriation of the Rohingya with Bangladesh and its minister had just visited refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Bensouda’s request is the first of its kind filed at the court. She asked the ICC to call a hearing to hear her arguments, as well as those of other interested parties.

The magistrate assigned to consider the request, Congolese judge Antoine Kesia-Mbe Mindua, will determine how to proceed.

Reporting by Antoni Slodkowski; Additional reporting by Toby Sterling in AMSTERDAM; Editing by Clarence Fernandez