Myanmar said Thursday that a request at the International Criminal Court to probe the mass deportation of Rohingya Muslims from the country was “meritless” and should be rejected.
Some 700,000 Rohingya were violently expelled from their homes in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in a military crackdown that started almost a year ago after insurgents attacked border guard posts.
The stateless minority fled to Bangladesh where they recounted widespread rape, murder and the burning of villages at the hands of security forces in operations the US and UN have called ethnic cleansing.
Myanmar has vigorously denied that it orchestrated the campaign and said it was defending itself, but international pressure for accountability has mounted.
In April the chief prosecutor at the ICC Fatou Bensouda took the unprecedented step of asking judges to consider whether the court could extend its jurisdiction to Myanmar, which is not a member state.
A pre-trial chamber asked Myanmar to submit a formal response to the request by July 27, even though the Southeast Asian country has long maintained that it is not a party to the treaty that governs the court.
The deadline passed but Myanmar went into more detail Thursday about why it did not respond formally, reiterating its previous position and claiming that the prosecutor relied on one-sided and biased sources.
It also said it was unable to view submissions from Bangladesh and that the ICC had accepted briefs of “mostly charged narratives of harrowing personal tragedies calculated to place emotional pressure on the court”.
Myanmar concluded that the request for a ruling on jurisdiction is “meritless and should be dismissed”.
The statement said Myanmar had also established its own independent commission of inquiry though critics counter that the move falls into a pattern of creating investigative bodies that have no impact on addressing abuses.
Bangladesh is a member of the Rome Statute underpinning the ICC and the prosecutor has argued that deportation is akin to a cross-border shooting.
No decision has been made on the request but the legal thorniness surrounding it and the fact that a referral to the ICC at the Security Council could face pushback from China and Russia have raised doubts about whether it will proceed.
Rights groups have said senior members of Myanmar’s security forces including commander-in-chief Min Aung Hlaing should be investigated, but so far the country has faced little real censure on the international stage except for targeted sanctions against a handful of military officials.
Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a repatriation agreement but the deal has stalled amid fears from Rohingya refugees that they won’t be guaranteed safety and full rights.
The Rohingya were stripped of their citizenship decades ago and cast as outsiders in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, with little freedom of movement or access to healthcare.