Campaign group Fortify Rights and 16 Myanmar nationals filed a genocide and war crimes complaint against Myanmar’s military leaders in Germany in the latest attempt to invoke universal jurisdiction against the country’s generals.
Fortify Rights announced the case on Tuesday in Thailand, which shares a long and porous border with Myanmar, and said it filed a 215-page complaint with Germany’s federal public prosecutor on January 20. The prosecutor’s office must now decide whether to open an investigation.
The prosecutor’s office confirmed receipt of the complaint in an email to VOA but declined further comment.
Universal jurisdiction Some crimes, including genocide, are so heinous that they transcend national borders and can be tried anywhere, and their perpetrators.
Fortify Rights CEO Matthew Smith said Germany has some of the most comprehensive universal jurisdiction laws in the world and already handles more than 100 such cases.
The group provided new evidence in its complaint that “the Myanmar military has committed systematic killings, rape, torture, imprisonment, disappearance, torture and other acts that constitute crimes against humanity and war crimes in violation of German law.”
“The complaint contains evidence showing that senior military junta officers exercised superior responsibility over subordinates who committed crimes, and that those officers were aware of the crimes of their subordinates and failed to take any action to prevent the crimes or punish the perpetrators,” Smith added.
He told VOA that junta leader Min Aung Hlaing was among the targets of the complaint, but the others were not identified. He said they included “members of the Myanmar military and others”.
The complaint covers alleged abuses against the country’s minority Rohingya in 2016 and 2017 and against the wider population since the military overthrew the democratically elected government in February 2021.
The U.S. and others have accused the Rohingya of genocide over the military’s treatment of them after the killing, rape and burning that drove more than 700,000 of the Muslim community to neighboring Bangladesh in 2017. Rights groups say police and the army have killed thousands of civilians across the country since the uprising in their bid to quell ongoing armed resistance and civil disobedience to the junta’s rule.
Myanmar’s military rulers have denied wrongdoing. They said the army’s operations in 2016 and 2017 were legitimate insurgency operations and that it was using disproportionate force since the insurgency against “terrorists” to restore peace and order.
Fortify Rights notes that the mixed makeup of complainants reflects the breadth of abuse. About half are Rohingya; The rest are from many other ethnic groups in the country, including Arakan, Chin, Karen, Karenni, Mon and the majority Burman.
One of the Rohingya, a woman identified only as FK for her safety, said she survived an attack on her village by soldiers and others under their control in 2017. According to the complaint, she said she saw them beating, stabbing and burning their houses and heard them raping her daughter-in-law in the next room.
“We [are counting] on the judiciary in Germany to open an investigation. “It’s time to end the criminal justice system and ensure they can no longer get away with their crimes,” said Nicky Diamond, a Burmese complainant who fled post-coup violence and now lives in Germany.
“If we do not act, serious crimes will go unpunished, criminals will even repeat their crimes,” he said in a statement of complaint via video link.
In addition to interviews with hundreds of abuse survivors and witnesses, the complaint, which comes with more than 1,000 pages of supporting material, includes information and leaked documents from military and police deserters and other sources, Fortify Rights said.
The rights group said it would also fill “gaps” in other cases against the military already at the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court, and in another universal jurisdiction case in Argentina. All three focused on alleged crimes committed by the military against the Rohingya before the insurgency. The ICJ held only states, not individuals, criminally liable. Argentina’s courts, unlike Germany’s, do not specifically prescribe punishment for genocide, Smith said.
In another universal jurisdiction, Turkey’s public prosecutor’s office is investigating Myanmar’s military for crimes against humanity for torturing prisoners in the first case filed against the junta for crimes since the 2021 coup.
None of the accused are in custody in those cases or in the complaint just filed in Germany. But Smith hopes that will change if Germany’s public prosecutor decides to open an investigation.
“Eventually the goal is for the German authorities to issue arrest warrants, and when that happens, things like extradition to Germany become very real,” he said. “It sends a message to members of the Myanmar military junta and others responsible for crimes in Myanmar that they are not safe, that they are not safe to travel in our world.”