Aung San Suu Kyi’s deposed government is marshalling evidence that it hopes will see Myanmar’s military junta prosecuted for crimes against humanity.
As General Min Aung Hlaing’s regime escalates its alleged killings and arrests of opponents, the Committee Representing Pyidaungsu Hluttaw, formed by MPs from the ousted leader’s National League for Democracy, has retained a London law firm to advise it on international legal proceedings.
Volterra Fietta has experience representing clients at international courts and tribunals, including the UN’s International Court of Justice in The Hague.
The law firm has also held online meetings with the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, which was set up by the UN’s Human Rights Council in 2018 after the military’s violent expulsion of Rohingya Muslims from the country’s western Rakhine state. It has also shared reports of alleged atrocities with UN investigators, according to a senior partner and the UN itself.
“We have been instructed by Myanmar to make various communications and submissions to a number of UN human rights bodies and special rapporteurs,” Robert Volterra, the firm’s founding partner, told the Financial Times. He said this included reports and evidence of “arbitrary detention, torture, and extrajudicial killings”.
Nicholas Koumjian, head of the IIMM, confirmed that Volterra’s firm had made contact with his office.
“International justice is unfortunately very slow, but it has a long memory,” said Koumjian, a US prosecutor. He has previously worked on seven international courts hearing charges of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the trials of Charles Taylor, the former Liberian president, and Cambodian Khmer Rouge leaders Nuon Chea and Khieu Samphan.
The decision by the CRPH, which is seeking international recognition as Myanmar’s legitimate government, to share information with UN investigators came as civilians have shared gory footage of alleged atrocities by security forces.
According to a conservative running estimate by the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners, a human rights group, 726 people have been killed by the junta and more than 3,000 arrested since the coup on February 1.
The IIMM last month asked people to share evidence of arbitrary arrests, torture and enforced disappearances but urged them to exercise “an abundance of caution” by using secure communications. Koumjian said the UN had received tens of thousands of videos and other pieces of evidence and was analysing them.
Volterra said that his law firm and Sasa, the CRPH’s international envoy, had also been “flooded with communications”, adding: “Most of it is deeply upsetting and unbelievably awful to see.”
Legal experts hope that junta leaders will eventually be prosecuted for crimes against humanity. The ICJ is hearing a genocide case against Myanmar brought in 2019 by Gambia over atrocities against the Rohingya.
“Without question, these crimes that have been committed since the coup should be investigated,” said Kingsley Abbott of the International Commission of Jurists, a human rights group.
“On the face of it, they meet requirements for crimes against humanity — a widespread or systematic attack directed against a civilian population pursuant to a state policy — that’s the threshold under the [International Criminal Court’s] Rome Statute.”
However, a potential ICC prosecution would face “formidable hurdles”, Abbott said. Myanmar does not belong to the court and would need to either refer itself for prosecution or be referred to the court by the UN Security Council, of which China and Russia are members. Neither Moscow nor Beijing has condemned the coup.
Another option would be an international justice case brought against Myanmar elsewhere under universal jurisdiction, in which serious international crimes can be prosecuted regardless of the nationality of the perpetrators or where the crimes occurred.
Volterra declined to comment on his legal strategy.
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