YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar on Thursday sharply rejected an attempt by the International Criminal Court to consider the country’s culpability for activities that caused about 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh for safety.
The office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s leader, said in a statement posted online that the court in the Netherlands has no jurisdiction over Myanmar because it is not a member state.
It also offered procedural reasons for why it would not respond formally to the court’s request for its views on the exodus of the Rohingya, and said the question “is meritless and should be dismissed.” The ICC did not immediately respond to an Associated Press request for comment.
Critics including U.N. experts have accused Myanmar’s military of atrocities against the Rohingya amounting to ethnic cleaning, or even genocide. Suu Kyi’s government says it was carrying out justifiable counterinsurgency operations in response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya militants in August last year.
The army, according to accounts compiled by human rights organizations, beat and killed civilians, organized rapes and the burning of thousands of homes belonging to Rohingya in Myanmar’s western state of Rakhine.
The ICC had solicited Myanmar’s views in April, and later set a July 27 deadline for a response to the question of whether the court should have jurisdiction over the matter.
Thursday’s Myanmar government statement accused the court of violating international legal norms by seeking to assert jurisdiction over the issue despite Myanmar not being a party to the Rome Statute establishing the court.
“By allowing such a contrived procedure, the ICC may set a dangerous precedent whereby future populistic causes and complaints against non-State Parties to the Rome Statute may be litigated at the urging of biased stakeholders and non-governmental organizations and even then, selectively based on the political current of the times,” it said.
The statement also referred to several proceedings carried out by the court that it called irregular or not allowed under its own rules, including alleged “lack of fairness and transparency.” It also mentioned its agreements to have Rohingya repatriated from Bangladesh, though such action has yet to be implemented on a large scale and the U.N. has criticized Myanmar for dragging its heels.
The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination and were the target of violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people — predominantly Rohingya — from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remained until last year’s violence.
The government refuses to recognize the Rohingya as a legitimate native ethnic minority. Most Rohingya are denied citizenship and other rights.