Families of the victims of a brutal crackdown on anti-junta protests in Myanmar are calling on the Netherlands-based International Criminal Court (ICC) to prosecute those responsible for the death or dismemberment of their loved ones.
On Feb. 1, the military overthrew Myanmar’s democratically elected government, claiming voter fraud had led to a landslide victory for Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party in the country’s November 2020 election. The junta has yet to provide evidence of its claims and has violently suppressed nationwide demonstrations calling for a return to civilian rule, killing nearly 900 people over the past five months.
In recent days, the family members of those killed or maimed by junta soldiers have urged the ICC to hold the military’s leadership to account for its actions, which they say fall under the court’s jurisdiction according to its founding treaty, the Rome Statute.
Under the statute, the ICC can accept cases related to four main crimes—genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes, and crimes of aggression. The actions by the junta would most likely fall under crimes against humanity—which include murder, rape, imprisonment, enforced disappearances, and torture as part of a large-scale attack against any civilian population.
Before the ICC will investigate a case, the Office of the Prosecutor must determine whether there is sufficient evidence of crimes of sufficient gravity falling within the ICC’s jurisdiction, whether there are genuine national proceedings, and whether opening an investigation would serve the interests of justice and of the victims.
After gathering evidence and identifying a suspect, the prosecution requests that the ICC judges issue an arrest warrant or summons against a suspect and—based on summations presented by the prosecution, the Defense, and the Legal representative of victims—the judges decide if there is enough evidence for the case to go to trial.
Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government (NUG) is currently gathering evidence of crimes perpetrated by the junta that it plans to present to the ICC, although the country is not a signatory to the Rome Statute or a member of the court.
Speaking to RFA’s Myanmar Service, a family member of Kyaw Min Latt, who was shot dead by the military on March 27 in Tanintharyi region’s Dawei township, said the military should be prosecuted for the extrajudicial killings of innocent civilians. A video of the killing recorded on a nearby CCTV camera has since been widely circulated on social media.
“I’m calling for action … [the junta] would surely arrest me if I tried to take action myself,” the family member said. “They are killing us as easily as if they were shooting a chicken or a bird on the road.”
Htoo Myat Win, 13, was also killed on March 27 when a bullet fired by the military entered his home in Sagaing region’s Shwebo township.
“I am sure my son was shot from the roof of a nearby building, but it is not possible at this time to find out who the real killer was,” his father told RFA.
“The army is fully responsible for these crimes. [My son’s death] didn’t make any sense at all. If action is taken against them, I'll be happy. It can be done.”
\‘Above the law’
A family member of Lyan Phyo Aung, a civil engineering student at Magway Technological University who had his right arm amputated and can no longer see out of one eye after being wounded during a military crackdown, told RFA that if action is not taken against the junta, the country will continue to lose functioning members of its critical younger generation.
“It is imperative that action is taken against them for destroying the lives and property of the citizens,” the family member said. “The later the action, the more losses people will suffer.”
Lyan Phyo Aung was arrested on March 27 during an anti-coup protest in central Magwe region. He was charged under Section 505 (a) for “incitement” and remains in detention.
The cases of Htoo Myat Win, Kyaw Min Latt and Lyan Phyo Aung are among some 200 the NUG hopes to bring to the attention of the ICC.
On June 25, Dr. Sasa, the NUG Minister for International Relations, told reporters that the shadow government had received more than 400,000 complaints from across Myanmar over the previous three months and said more than 200 cases that meet international standards would be selected and presented to the ICC.
“Without a functioning democracy, we cannot punish [military chief] Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing—he is currently above the law. That’s why we’ll have to send him to the ICC,” he said.
“We need solid evidence to sue him at the ICC, so we are currently collecting such evidence and building the case.”
The ICC has heard 30 cases since it was founded on July 1, 2002.
In addition to the killing and wounding of civilian protesters, at least 30 people have been tortured to death by the authorities during interrogations in detention since the coup d’état, according to investigations by RFA—the latest of whom were two men from the country’s Bago and Mandalay regions.
On June 28, security forces in Bago’s Shwedaung township arrested 22-year-old Aung Aung Lwin for defaming Sen. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing based on a video provided by an informant, according to a relative, who said three days later, police informed his family that he had died due to “extreme stomach acidity” and his body was at the local cemetery. When family members went to the cemetery to retrieve the body, authorities told them it had already been cremated.
Soe San, the 44-year-old NLD chairman of Tair-zu village in Mandalay’s Wundwin township, was arrested on July 29 when he and a friend went to a local police station after learning that authorities had been looking for him a day earlier, according to a source who is close to his family.
A day later, relatives were informed of his death, but were not permitted to examine his body or take photos when they went to see his body at a local cemetery.
Veteran lawyer Kyee Myint told RFA that whenever a person dies during interrogation, the case should be treated as murder, with the victim’s family granted the right to sue authorities in accordance with the law.
“They have the right to do so by law,” he said. “However, when it comes to litigation against the government, we only have a 10 percent chance. The other 90 percent is up to the whims of the police and the judge. That’s the situation in Myanmar.”
Last month, Phil Robertson, deputy director of New York-based Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, condemned the arbitrary detention and torture of dissidents and called for an investigation into deaths in custody.
“The problem, of course, is that Myanmar’s military is trying to cover everything up,” he said at the time.
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