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,” as reported by The Associated Press.
Last August, Myanmar launched a major military crackdown on the Muslim ethnic minority, killing almost 24,000 civilians and forcing 750,000 others to flee to Bangladesh, according to the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).
The ICC is a court of last resort, which steps in only when national authorities are unable or unwilling to prosecute alleged crimes.
Bensouda’s announcement came on the day that U.N.-backed investigators presented a report that painted a grim picture of crimes against Rohingya. The report found that certain members of the Myanmar army have participated in a genocide against Rohingya Muslims, many of who fled to neighboring Bangladesh. The 444-page United Nations fact finding report has called the crimes committed by the Myanmar army “the gravest crimes under international law.” Explaining the role of the military in politics in Myanmar’s history, the report concluded that the army was a key player in decision making. The report also summarized the history of repression and hostilities toward the ethnic and religious minorities during the dictatorial era lasting from 1962 to 2011. Referring to previous U.N. reports, the report listed similar actions taken by the Myanmar army and government in the past against the Rohingya.
The Rohingya, described by the U.N. as the world’s most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012. In a report, U.N. investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.
The stateless Rohingya have been the target of communal violence and vicious anti-Muslim sentiment in mainly Buddhist Myanmar for years. Myanmar has denied citizenship to Rohingya since 1982 and excludes them from the 135 ethnic groups it officially recognizes, which effectively renders them stateless. The Rohingya trace their presence in Rakhine back centuries. However, most people in majority-Buddhist Myanmar consider them to be unwanted Muslim immigrants from Bangladesh.