London, 19 August, 2022: According to a legal opinion published today, the International Criminal Court (ICC) has a clear legal obligation to accept the declaration of Myanmar’s democratic, National Unity Government (NUG) providing the consent of that state for the Court to exercise its jurisdiction inside Myanmar.
If the Court were to accept the NUG Declaration, it could lead to an investigation into atrocity crimes such as the one the ICC is currently conducting in Ukraine.
The opinion written by Dr Ralph Wilde, an expert on international law at University College London, is being released by the Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP) to mark the first anniversary of the NUG making its declaration public. It is endorsed by some of the world’s leading international law experts.
According to Wilde, the ICC’s legal obligation to accept the NUG declaration “is based in part on the fact that the NUG is the legitimate government of Myanmar as a matter of domestic law, having been elected by a landslide in November 2020. The junta seized power in a coup in February 2021 and is operating on a manifestly unconstitutional and thereby illegitimate basis.”
It flows from this, says MAP Director, Chris Gunness, “that the ICC could and should initiate proceedings against the Myanmar junta. There is a clear case to be answered, with over two thousand people killed since the coup, according to conservative estimates, around fifteen thousand arrested, over a million displaced by conflict and some fourteen million people in urgent need of humanitarian assistance.”
MAP’s Protection Director, Damian Lilly, argues that “the execution of four prisoners of conscience at the end of July and the international condemnation of this heinous act underlines the urgent need for Myanmar’s junta to be held accountable for its atrocity crimes. An investigation by the ICC is one of the few paths towards justice for the people of Myanmar.”
Wilde’s opinion argues that such a move “supports the ultimate aims of the Rome Statute, the ICC’s founding document: to end impunity for serious crimes through the exercise of criminal jurisdiction nationally and, if that is not forthcoming, internationally.”
“The good news for the ICC is that there is already plenty of evidence available to prosecute member of the military junta,” says Lilly. “The Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) established to investigate the 2017 genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya population, has collected a plethora of evidence of crimes also committed since the coup and is mandated to share this with the ICC.”
Following the ICC Prosecutor’s decision to seek authorisation to begin an investigation into Ukraine, over forty states parties referred the situation there to the Court.
Gunness urged them to take similar action on Myanmar. “We call on the states parties to the Rome Statute and the Prosecutor, to demonstrate that the lives of the people of Myanmar matter as much as the lives of people in Ukraine. Given that the NUG Declaration provides the gateway for action, the ICC Prosecutor and the states parties have no excuse for further delay. The people of Myanmar have been waiting long enough for justice. States and the ICC Prosecutor must act.”
For interview requests with Ralph Wilde, Damian Lilly and Chris Gunness, please contact Chris Gunness at [email protected] or on WhatsApp +447587698990