At long last international arrest warrants may be headed the way of Myanmar’s top military and political leaders, including the country’s de facto prime minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, for crimes against Rohingya Muslims.
Neither the Nobel peace prize nor her Oxford PPE (politics, philosophy and economics) degree will be able to save the state counsellor if the Argentinian court, where the lawsuit was filed on Wednesday by human rights groups, has its way.
Argentina — whose law allows its court to exercise universal jurisdiction — has in the past heard cases involving Spanish dictator Francisco Franco and the Falun Gong movement in China. Earlier on Monday, Gambia filed a genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
Unlike the Argentinian case, the Gambian genocide case filed at ICJ is a novelty. At best, it might end up being a verdict on how badly the world is tackling genocide and other crimes against humanity.
Gambia and other Organisation of Islamic Cooperation countries that filed the case, citing the little-used 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, just want to pass the message to the world how miserably the United Nations and its courts — especially the International Criminal Court (ICC) — have failed humanity.
Take the case of the UN. The Rwandan genocide is a good place to start. There, in one estimate, between 800,000 and one million Tutsis and Hutus were killed under the watch of UN peacekeepers. It was an abject failure for the world body.But slow learning UN remains a slow learner.
Other genocides and crimes against humanity have come and gone. So have UN secretaries-general. But all we get is pontifications from the podium in New York.
To be fair, the secretary-general is manacled by the permanent five of the Security Council. So shackled, the UN is headed down the road of irrelevance.
So is the ICC. There are two reasons for this. One, the ICC does not do enough. Two, if it does, it goes after the meek and weak. Most of the ICC’s war criminals seem to come out of Africa. The atrocities committed by the permanent five appear not to be within the ICC’s ken.
Where the ICC failed, Malaysia has stepped in with its tribunals, finding the likes of United States’s George Bush and Britain’s Tony Blair guilty of genocide. This is a telling verdict on ICC’s let-down as an institution.
The US — and its allies — are happy to see the ICC fail. From Bill Clinton, who signed the Rome Treaty, through Bush, who unsigned it, to President Donald Trump, all have worked tirelessly to keep the ICC away from American war criminals.
Last year, when ICC judges moved to charge Americans who served in Afghanistan with war crimes, the then White House national security adviser John Bolton threatened them thus: we will sanction you if you come after us, Israel or our allies. Rule of law for the rest and rule of the jungle for the US and its allies. Bigotry never had a better clime.
Malaysia, Gambia and Argentina’s efforts may end up being a mere paper victory, but they do echo what Leon Uris wrote in his bestselling Exodus: international law is one which the evil ignore and the righteous refuse to enforce.