Britain's Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, has confirmed that London may throw its support behind a proposal for Myanmar to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) over the ongoing Rohingya crisis.
Mr Hunt spoke after returning from a visit to Myanmar, where the country's military — called the Tatmadaw — has been accused by the UN and allied Western governments of carrying out a systematic policy of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslim minority, who reside in the country's western Rakhine state.
If there is not going to be accountability and justice in Burma then the international community needs to look at all options including ICC referral. The latter would need the support of the security council which it may not get so we need to look at other options too https://t.co/Aj6sCnYbwe— Jeremy Hunt (@Jeremy_Hunt) September 20, 2018
Hunt reportedly warned Myanmar's leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, that there will be "no hiding place" for those military generals that are accused of mass atrocity crimes, and that the "international community won't let it rest."
Yangon has set up its own independent commission to address the Tatmadaw's actions, about which Mr Hunt said, "if we don't see that process happening, we will use all the tools at our disposal to make sure there is justice."
"If there is not going to be accountability and justice then the international community needs to look at all options including ICC referral," he added.
However, Hunt also surprisingly broke paths with much of the international condemnation of Suu Kyi, which has included calls for her to be stripped of her Nobel Peace prize, by cautiously rallying to her defence.
"Unfortunately, she doesn't control the military," Hunt said in a question and answer session with the British public on Twitter. "They have a constitution which is halfway towards a democracy and the military are not accountable to her and are able to act with impunity. So we have to understand the difficultly of her position."
Yet, some are not so forgiving. Chris Sidoti, the Australian lawyer who co-authored the recent scathing UN report — published on Tuesday, September 18 — is quoted as saying that Miss Suu Kyi — a figure formally promoted by the United States as a champion of human rights — acted as a "fig leaf" for the military by "dismissing the overwhelming number of reports" of atrocities as "fake."
The UK Foreign Secretary's warning adds to mounting international pressure on Suu Kyi over an alleged military crackdown by Myanmar's forces that began at the end of 2016 in response to attacks on army checkpoints by Rohingya militants. According to reports, between 600-700,000 Rohingya have been forced to flee over Myanmar's border into refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Aung San Suu Kyi's government has however denied many of the ongoing allegations of war crimes and crimes against humanity. In 2017 she quoted as personally blaming "terrorists" for "a huge iceberg of misinformation" about violence in the Rakhine state. She also said in August 2018 that, "the danger of terrorist activities which was the initial cause of events leading to the humanitarian crisis in Rakhine remains real and present today." She did however concede at the World Economic Forum in Vietnam at the start of September 2018 that the Rohingya crisis "could have been handled better" by her government.
Governments who previously supported Myanmar under Aung San Suu Kyi's leadership have, one by one, marched out into the public space to deplore the reported actions of her military.
Australia has announced that it is in the process of considering "targeted sanctions" against government officials. Additionally, The Canadian House of Commons voted on Thursday, September 20, to unanimously declare alleged crimes committed against the Rohingya by Myanmar's military to be a genocide. Last, but definitely not least, the United States — whose former President Barack Obama once lauded Suu Kyi as an "icon of democracy" — has announced that it is examining action necessary to stopping future violence.