Universal jurisdiction case in Argentina: an important decision for the Rohingyas

12.08.2021 ( Last modified: 18.08.2021 )

An Argentinian court will soon hear the appeal of the only pending universal jurisdiction case on crimes against the Rohingyas people committed in Myanmar. A landmark decision is expected after the recent dismissal of the case by the lower court. For the first time, a court will decide in how far the exercise of universal jurisdiction relates to the International Criminal Court (ICC). The upcoming decision could create an important precedent for future cases, in Argentina and beyond.

Countless victims from Myanmar look at this trial with a glimmer of hope. ©EU/ECHO/Pierre Prakash

Read the article in Spanish here.

Complaint filed on behalf of Rohingyas

In 2019, the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) filed a complaint in Argentina over the crimes committed in Myanmar against Rohingyas, including mass killings, sexual violence, torture and forced displacement.

On 12 July 2021, the lower court dismissed the case based on the existence of an ongoing investigation before the ICC on crimes committed against the Rohingyas. The complainant appealed the decision. The first appeal hearing will take place on 17th of August 2021.


Importance of the appeal court decision

The ICC is based on the principle of complementarity, meaning that States bear the primary responsibility for prosecuting international crimes. The up-coming decision of the Argentinian Appeal Court will set an important milestone: does the complementary principle of the ICC allow a State to investigate and prosecute under universal jurisdiction similar allegations that are being investigation by the ICC? In other words, does the ICC take precedence over national authorities using universal jurisdiction?

The complainant argues that the ICC investigations are limited to crimes that were partly or fully committed in Bangladesh and do not include crimes that were committed in Myanmar which, unlike Bangladesh, is not a State Party to the ICC Rome Statute. In BROUK’s view, there is no conflict of jurisdiction on crimes of torture, murders and rapes committed only in Myanmar, as they will not be covered by ICC investigations.

Countless victims from Myanmar look at this trial with a glimmer of hope. The importance of universal jurisdiction to tackle impunity has been widely acknowledged in the last few years. Time has now come for States to fully undertake their responsibility to prosecute international crimes.


For more information on the law and practice of universal jurisdiction in selected countries, please see our Briefing Papers here.


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