World Court Opens Preliminary Probe Into Rohingya Expulsions

Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar prepare to leave a transit shelter in 2017 in Shahparirdwip, Bangladesh. Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe / Associated Press
Newly arrived Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar prepare to leave a transit shelter in 2017 in Shahparirdwip, Bangladesh. Photo: Gemunu Amarasinghe / Associated Press

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — The International Criminal Court’s chief prosecutor announced Tuesday that she is launching a preliminary investigation into deportations of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into Bangladesh.

Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said in a written statement and video message that she has begun a probe formally known as a preliminary examination to establish if there is enough evidence to merit a full-blown investigation.

Bensouda said she will look at reports of “a number of alleged coercive acts having resulted in the forced displacement of the Rohingya people, including deprivation of fundamental rights, killing, sexual violence, enforced disappearance, destruction and looting.”

Myanmar’s military has been accused of widespread rights violations, including rape, murder, torture and the burning of Rohingya villages – leading about 700,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh since August last year.


Bensouda’s announcement came less than two weeks after judges at the court gave her authorization to investigate the deportations despite Myanmar not being a member state of the court.

Judges said in their landmark ruling that because part of the alleged crime of deportation happened on the territory of Bangladesh – which is a member of the court – Bensouda has jurisdiction. Judges urged her to conclude her preliminary examination “within a reasonable time.”

The ICC is a court of last resort, which steps in only when national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute alleged crimes. Bensouda said prosecutors “will be engaging with the national authorities concerned with a view to discussing and assessing any relevant investigation and prosecution at the national level.”

Bensouda’s announcement came on the day that U.N.-backed investigators presented a report that painted a grim picture of crimes against Rohingya. Such reports will likely be closely studied in Bensouda’s probe.

The fact-finding team presented the report to the U.N.-supported Human Rights Council in Geneva.

It reiterated earlier findings that some top Myanmar military leaders should be prosecuted for war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya during a deadly crackdown that erupted in August 2017 following militant attacks on security posts in Rakhine state.

Myanmar’s new ambassador in Geneva has lashed out at what he called a “one-sided” report.

In Washington, the State Department said it had “serious concerns” about the Myanmar judicial system’s ability to hold people accountable for abuses against Rohingya, but would not be drawn on whether it supports an ICC investigation.


“U.S. government . will take a very close look at what forum or what venue we think is most appropriate for handling these types of very sensitive cases,” spokeswoman Heather Nauert told reporters Tuesday.

Last week, hawkish U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton denounced The Hague-based court as a threat to American sovereignty and U.S. national security interests.

Story: Mike Corder