Asia

International Criminal Court Confirms Probe on Myanmar for Crimes Against the Rohingya.

By: Ethan Song
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar- The International Criminal Court has a confirmed the preliminary probe on Myanmar for crimes against Rohingya Muslims.

ICC opens probe into crimes against Rohingya

Several thousands of Rohingya Muslim has fled from Myanmar in fear of Muslim crackdown. Photo Courtesy of (Mohammad Ponir Hossain/Reuters)

Since last year, more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslim has fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh following a brutal muslim crackdown from the governing body. This crackdown has been a retaliatory action following the Rohingya militant’s attacks against security post in Myanmar.  The alleged actions by the Myanmar government include murder, sexual violence and arson against the Rohingya Muslim.

The initial probe will open up possibility for a full investigation by the International Criminal Court. The probe will focus on the different acts committed by the Myanmar government that led to the fleeing of Rohingya Muslim. Once it is deemed plausible, the court will continue investigating possible genocide claims against Myanmar.

The initial probe by the ICC comes days after the U.N. report demanding Myanmar be investigated for genocide charges. The 444 page report by the UN reports detailed allegations committed by the military in relation to the Rohingya people.

Myanmar has denied all allegation on this matter. This is not the first denial by the Myanmar government of its actions against the Rohingya Muslim. Myanmar continues to discredit the U.N. report by stating that it is misleading and a one-sided report of the incidents.

Despite Myanmar not being part of the ICC, the court will still continue to establish jurisdiction due to Bangladesh’s membership in the ICC. The court hopes that the probe will lead to different investigations on the alleged matter by Myanmar.

For more information, please visit: 

BBC – ICC opens Myanmar Rohingya crimes probe – 19 September 2018

Times – The ICC Has Launched a Preliminary Examination Into Myanmar’s Expulsion of Rohingya Muslims – 19 September 2018

Al Jazeera – ICC opens probe into crimes against Rohingya – 19 September 2018

After Landmark Ruling, Gay Sex Legalized in India

By: Jenilyn Brhel
Impunity Watch News Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – A landmark ruling legalizing gay sex was passed down from India’s highest court on September 6th, putting an end to more than a century’s worth of anti-LGBT legislation.

Celebrations erupted after the landmark decision. Photo courtesy of Piyal Adhikary.

Introduced in the 1860s, the colonial-era law in question, Section 377 of the Indian penal code, criminalized gay sex. Violators could face a maximum sentence of life in prison.

Prior to Section 377’s repeal, Indian courts had been reluctant to rule on the issue. In 2009, the Delhi High Court found the law unconstitutional, but the Supreme Court overturned its decision four years later.

Lawyers questioned the constitutional basis of the 2013 ruling. In that ruling, the court stated that because it believed only “a miniscule fraction of the country’s population constitute lesbians, gays, bisexuals or transgenders” that the law was “legally unsustainable” to repeal.

Lawyers in the latest hearings questioned that stance and its constitutional basis.

Colin Gonsalves, one of the attorneys representing the dozen-plus litigants in the case, called the decision “a wrong judgment. It was not legal and it was based wrongly on the tenets of the constitution.”

Celebrations spread throughout the country with news of the repeal. Crowds outside the supreme court erupted in cheers and tears of relief as the decision was announced. Marches and parades took place across the country.

“I was turning into a cynical human being with very little belief in the system, but honestly that has really shown once again that we are a functional democracy where freedom of choice, speech and rights still exist” said Ritu Dalmia, one of the campaigners.

Another campaigner, Bismaya Kumar Raula, said, “I can’t even explain how I am feeling right now. The long battle has been won. Finally we have been recognized by this country.”

Although some religious and conservative groups oppose the ruling, public opinion throughout India is largely supportive of the repeal.

Chief Justice Dipak Misra announced the decision of the court, saying “social exclusion, identity seclusion and isolation from the social mainstream are still the stark realities faced by individuals today, and it is only when each and every individual is liberated from the shackles of such bondage…that we can call ourselves a truly free society.”

For more information, please see:

BBC News – India court legalises gay sex in landmark ruling – 6 September 2018

CNN – India’s top court decriminalizes gay sex in landmark ruling – 6 September 2018

The Guardian – Campaigners celebrate as India decriminalises homosexuality – 6 September 2018

Los Angeles Times – India’s gay sex ban was a relic of the British Empire — but it’s still in place in dozens of ex-colonies – 7 September 2018

 

 

India’s Supreme Court Upholds Biometric Identification System

By: Charlotte Volpe
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

NEW DELHI, India – On September 26, 2018, a five-justice panel of the Supreme Court of India upheld the constitutionality of the national biometric identification system, Aadhaar. While noting its constitutionality in a 4-1 ruling, the court also placed strict limitations on Aadhaar’s scope and reach.

Woman in Amritsar, India scans her fingerprints during Aadhaar registration process. Photo courtesy of Narinder Nanu.

The ruling maintained that Aadhaar could be required for accessing public benefits and filing income taxes. However, the court struck down on private companies’ ability to require Aadhaar identification from their customers for access to their services.

Aadhaar – “foundation” in Hindi – is an expansive biometric information database administered by the Indian government that includes the fingerprints and iris scans of 1.2 billion people – 9 out of 10 Indians. The program was originally founded in 2009 as a foolproof digital identification system for all Indians, particularly for those who have traditionally struggled to produce formal proof of identity.

The biometric information in Aadhaar’s database is matched to a unique 12-digit number, which serves as an ID and ensures that government services are received by intended parties. Welfare recipients use this number to verify their identity upon collecting benefits or joining government work programs.

With Narendra Modi’s election in 2014, Aadhaar’s use expanded past its original intent of streamlining public services delivery. Modi and his Bharatiya Janata Party granted private companies access to Aadhaar biometric data for customer verification purposes, placing Indian citizens’ fingerprints at corporations’ fingertips. Everything from opening a bank account or setting up a cell phone line required an Aadhaar number.

The court’s ruling on Aadhaar’s constitutionality invited pushback from critics and supporters alike.

Privacy-advocates lamented that upholding Aadhaar violates data security protections and facilitates the potential for a surveillance state. Activists worry that mandating Aadhaar registration for receipt of government benefits may preclude some of India’s most vulnerable populations from access to public services and subsidies.

Private companies were disappointed by the court’s ruling, which places severe limitations on their ability to utilize Aadhaar in their customer sign-up processes. Using Aadhaar’s biometric data verification was significantly more cost-effective than traditional paper-based means of identity proof.

The court’s decision to uphold Aadhaar with severe restrictions sets an example for future data privacy and security inquiries. National governments will continue to grapple with the balance act between enhanced security and ease, and privacy protection. India’s Supreme Court ruling sets a precedent for future questions on this issue that are certain to arise.

For further information, please see:

The Economist – A court upholds but curbs India’s giant biometric ID system – 27 September 2018

Human Rights Watch – India: Top Court OK’s Biometric ID Program – 27 September 2018

The New York Times – India’s Top Court Limits Sweep of Biometric ID Program – 25 September 2018

Pakistan High Court Releases Ex-Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif

By: Charlotte Volpe                                                                                                             Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

ISLAMABAD, Pakistan – On September 19th, the Islamabad High Court announced the release on bail of former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, his daughter Maryam Nawaz, and his son-in-law. The three were convicted in July by an anti-corruption court due to inquiries related to their ownership of high-value properties in London, drawing scrutiny on how government officials could afford such luxury real estate abroad.

Supporters of former PM Nawaz Sharif celebrating the Islamabad High Court’s decision. Photo courtesy of Anjum Naveed.

Sharif was ousted from office last year by the Supreme Court for alleged acts of corruption related to the properties the family owned in London.

The ruling to release the Sharifs has been praised by observers as the court’s declaration of its authority and assertion of proper judicial process, independent of external influences. Back in July, independent lawyers and analysts viewed the court’s sentencing of the Sharifs as unsubstantiated by enough evidence linking the family to the London properties. The court too has now come to that conclusion.

Sharif’s political supporters and his party, the Pakistan Muslim League–Nawaz (PML-N), are in high spirits. They contend that his conviction was an attempt by Imran Kahn and his rival party, the Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI), to discredit Sharif as a political candidate for the general elections in July and harm his chance for re-election.

Kahn, the favored candidate of the Pakistani military, swept the elections and is now prime minister. 

PLM-N supporters feel that this is clear indication of PTI involvement leading to Sharif’s original conviction in July. PTI supporters, however, retort that Sharif would never have been released if there was a PTI conspiracy to undermine him.

In any case, the Islamabad High Court’s overturning of their sentence will allow the Sharifs to resume rallying support for PLM-N. Seen by many as her father’s chosen political successor, Maryam in particular has added personal grievance towards Kahn and will likely begin mobilizing support against him and the ruling PTI party.

For more information, please see:

The Economist – Pakistan’s former prime minister is freed from prison – 20 September 2018

The New York Times – Pakistan Court Releases Nawaz Sharif, Ex-Prime Minister, From Prison – 19 September 2018

Al Jazeera – Pakistan court releases ex-PM Nawaz Sharif and daughter – 19 September 2018

The Telegraph – Pakistan court orders release of former prime minister Sharif and daughter – 19 September 2018

ICC Launches Preliminary Investigation on Deportation of Rohingya from Myanmar to Bangladesh

By: Charlotte Volpe
Impunity Watch Reporter, Asia

THE HAUGE, Netherlands – The International Criminal Court stated that they will begin a preliminary investigation on the forced displacement of more than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to Bangladesh. Led by ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, the preliminary inquiry will examine evidence of the atrocities that the Myanmar military has committed against Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar since 2017. The military’s alleged atrocities include mass rape, murder, destruction of Rohingya villages, and deportation. These crimes have gone unacknowledged and unpunished by Myanmar’s national government.

Rohingya refugees in borderland between Myanmar and Bangladesh. Photo courtesy of Adam Dean.

Though Myanmar is not a member state of the ICC, Bensouda argues that the Court holds jurisdiction over the conflict because the Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh, which is a member of the Court. Thus, the crime of forced displacement has continued into Bangladesh, providing a means for the ICC to exert its authority over this aspect of the conflict in a member state. This move is an attempt to insert international oversight over a genocide that has been occurring with impunity in Myanmar. The international community continues to have limited ability to investigate Myanmar army’s crimes against the Rohingya in Rakhine because Myanmar has refused international humanitarian organizations entry to that particular region.

A preliminary investigation is not a formal investigation, however. It is the ICC’s means to determine whether there is sufficient reason implicating an aggressor party for crimes against humanity, thus validating a full investigation to proceed. If the Court finds enough evidence demonstrating the Myanmar military’s violation of human rights against the Rohingya, it can launch a full-fledged investigation. However, to do so it will require that the UN Security Council refer the case in Myanmar to the ICC’s jurisdiction. The divisive nature of the Council, as well as Russia and China’s economic and geopolitical interests in Myanmar, make a Security Council referral an unlikely feat.

Nonetheless, the ICC’s preliminary investigation is a first step towards circumventing Myanmar’s refusal to hold their own army accountable for ethnic genocide. This preliminary examination has the potential to demonstrate that the international community will exert the authority it can in seeking justice for the atrocities experienced by the Rohingya, the “world’s most persecuted minority.” The extent to which the ICC can exact justice, however, is yet to be determined.

For further information, please see: 

The Straits Times – International Criminal Court opens preliminary probe into Myanmar crimes against Rohingya – 19 September 2018

International Criminal Court – Statement of ICC Prosecutor, Mrs Fatou Bensouda, on opening a Preliminary Examination concerning the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh – 18 September 2018

DW – Rohingya genocide: Will Myanmar generals face ICC justice? – 11 September 2018

The New York Times – International Criminal Court Opens Door to a Rohingya Inquiry – 6 September 2018