Debevoise and Legal Action Worldwide Seek Justice for Rohingya Victims in Myanmar

13 September 2021

Debevoise & Plimpton LLP has partnered with Legal Action Worldwide (“LAW”) to file a submission to the Prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (the “Court”), urging him to accept the declaration of Myanmar’s National Unity Government granting the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed in Myanmar, including against the Rohingya people.

Beginning in August 2017, Myanmar’s military, the Tatmadaw, killed, tortured and subjected to brutal sexual violence thousands of Rohingya. The military’s horrific violence forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. The United Nations has described these so-called “clearance operations” as a “human rights catastrophe” and recommended that senior Tatmadaw officials be investigated for genocide and other international crimes.

In November 2019, the Court authorized the Prosecutor to investigate crimes committed against the Rohingya. Because Myanmar is not a State Party to the Rome Statute, the Prosecutor has focused the investigation on crimes that occurred at least in part in the territory of Bangladesh, which is a State Party. However, the Court also allowed the Prosecutor to extend his investigation into crimes committed in any State—including Myanmar—that voluntarily accepted the Court’s jurisdiction under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute.

In February 2021, the Tatmadaw attempted to seize power from Myanmar’s elected civilian government and arrested several of its senior members, prompting the United Nations General Assembly to call on the military to “respect the will of the people as freely expressed by the results of the general election of 8 November 2020.” Members of parliament who won that election, as well as leaders of the deposed civilian government, formed the National Unity Government in April 2021.

On 17 July 2021, Acting President Duwa Lashi La of the National Unity Government filed a declaration under Article 12(3) of the Rome Statute accepting the Court’s jurisdiction over crimes committed in Myanmar since 1 July 2002. 

The submission by LAW and Debevoise & Plimpton LLP urges the Prosecutor of the Court to accept the National Unity Government’s declaration as the legitimate representative of Myanmar under international law.

LAW represents over 500 Rohingya clients, including Rohingya women’s network Shanti Mohila (Peace Women) and a group of male survivors of sexual violence. A majority were forcibly displaced from their homes during the 2017 “clearance operations.”

Antonia Mulvey, LAW’s Founder and Executive Director, said: “Our Rohingya clients have waited years for justice to be served after the heartbreaking violence that they suffered. We hope that the Prosecutor will accept the National Unity Government’s declaration and expand his investigation without delay.”

Catherine Amirfar, Debevoise partner and Co-Chair of the International Dispute Resolution Group, said: “Together with LAW, we are honored to help give voice to the Rohingya victims and seek to hold accountable the perpetrators of these horrific crimes in Myanmar. The Prosecutor is presented with an opportunity to bring them to justice. ”

The Debevoise team advising LAW is led by Catherine Amirfar and counsel Floriane Lavaud, and includes associates Romain Zamour, Duncan Pickard and Amina Afifi, and law clerk Michael Pizzi