Episode: KPN 26-10-2022 Kaladan Radio
An unprecedented and potentially ground-breaking legal initiative aimed at obtaining justice against the Myanmar military was recently launched in Jakarta. Today, Indonesia’s Constitutional Court continues its deliberations on a petition requesting that the Court review a domestic human rights law.
Should the petition succeed, it would allow a case for atrocity crimes to be investigated in Indonesia against members of the Myanmar military, similar to the investigations initiated in Argentina and Turkey under the principle of universal jurisdiction.
This would be the first case in an ASEAN member state that could potentially investigate the coup leaders: a group of soldiers who staged a putsch which violated the country’s pro-military constitution and who stand accused by the United Nations and other bodies of mass atrocity crimes against their own people. According to conservative estimates over 2,300 people have been killed since the February 2021 coup and over 15,000 have been detained or forcibly disappeared.
“This would be the first case in an ASEAN member state that could potentially investigate the coup leaders: a group of soldiers who staged a putsch which violated the country’s pro-military constitution and who stand accused by the United Nations and other bodies of mass atrocity crimes against their own people. According to conservative estimates over 2,300 people have been killed since the February 2021 coup and over 15,000 have been detained or forcibly disappeared.”
This same group was responsible for orchestrating a wave of violence in Rakhine state in Myanmar five years ago, forcing more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee into Bangladesh, where uncertainty about their return home looms to this day. Many Rohingya experienced or witnessed physical violence, killings, massacres, rape and other forms of sexual violence perpetrated by the military and others. This vast Muslim refugee population still awaits justice.
The petitioners are respected public figures with considerable standing in Indonesia and the ASEAN region: Marzuki Darusman, a former attorney general of Indonesia, Busyro Muqoddas, head of legal affairs of Muhammadiyah, the largest Muslim charity in the world’s most populous Muslim country and Sasmito Madrim, chairman of Indonesia’s Independent Alliance of Journalists (AJI).
Their argument hinges on just four words.
The Indonesian Constitution guarantees the protection of human rights universally, through its deliberate use of the word “everyone” in its articles on human rights protection. The Constitution also guarantees the protection of human rights regardless of citizenship.
“The Indonesian Constitution guarantees the protection of human rights universally, through its deliberate use of the word “everyone” in its articles on human rights protection. The Constitution also guarantees the protection of human rights regardless of citizenship.”
The petitioners are arguing that the law concerning Indonesia’s Human Rights Court — where the case against the Myanmar military would be heard – violates the Constitution by stipulating that a trial can only be heard if the crimes are committed “by citizens of Indonesia”.
The deletion of these four words would not only respect both the letter and wider objectives of Indonesia’s 1945 Constitution — to promote peace and human rights universally, regardless of citizenship — it would also hold out the hope of accountability to a people with few other meaningful routes to justice.
Myanmar’s Court system has become a punitive tool in the hands of a vindictive military clique which has quite literally taken the law into its own hands. Nothing illustrates this more tragically than the execution of four political prisoners at the end of July this year, the first such execution in over four decades.
Though efforts at obtaining justice against the Myanmar military through the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court made progress in the right direction, the protracted situation Rohingya refugees face in the camps in Cox’s Bazar, and the ongoing post-coup crises in Myanmar, demand more robust action, not only at the international but also regional and national level.
There remains a risk, as has always been the case in the context of Myanmar, that justice delayed is justice denied.
New figures from Chin State in northern Myanmar make the case for justice even more urgent. According to the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), since the coup, there have been approximately 450 civilian deaths in north western Myanmar as a result of summary executions, shoot on sight orders, airstrikes, landmines, indiscriminate targeting of civilian infrastructure, or death during torture.
There are well documented cases of massacres, people being burned alive, executions of women who’d been raped and the killing of people who’d been used as human shields.
According to CHRO documentation, in Chin State, Magway Region and Sagaing Region combined, over 7,000 civilian properties such as schools, hospitals, displaced peoples’ camps and religious infrastructure have been razed to the ground since the coup as part of the army’s scorched earth policy.
The town of Thantlang in Chin State was destroyed by fire, after “on the record” threats were made by the junta to “burn the town to ash” if opposition groups did not surrender. Over 1,000 homes and religious buildings were destroyed there in a mass arson attack.
Over 100,000 people have been displaced from Chin State alone by fighting, either internally in Myanmar or over the border into India.
These horrifying statistics are taking on an increasingly political significance.
With Indonesia set to become chair of ASEAN on Jan. 1, 2023 and with growing frustration about the lack of progress on the “five-point consensus” plan, pressure for action is building across the region.
The people of ASEAN and the region’s vibrant civil society organizations will be looking to the Indonesian Chair for leadership, as options for change in Myanmar dwindle. ASEAN, through President Joko “Jokowi” Widodo, has an opportunity to send a strong message that violations of human rights anywhere, against anyone, will not be condoned.
Although the Constitutional Court is independent, its deliberations will be watched around the world and will usefully focus debate across ASEAN.
Moreover, the very fact of the Constitutional Court hearing in itself will send a powerful signal to Myanmar’s generals — who have blatantly ignored ASEAN entreaties — that their actions are an embarrassment to a region that is striving for good economic and diplomatic relations internally and also with nations outside east Asia.
Should Indonesia’s Constitutional Court allow a case to be heard, this would be a win for Indonesian justice, a win for Indonesian diplomacy in the region, a win for ASEAN and, more important, a win for the 55 million people of Myanmar.
Tagged as: Burma, Akyab, Myanmar, Kutupalong, Arakan, Teknaf, Rakhine, Balukhali, Sittwe, RRRC, Burma-Bangladesh border, APBn, Rohingya, IDP camp in Arakan, Arakan Army, Bangadesh refugee camp, Rohingya Refugee, Military Council force, Maungdaw, Rohingya refugee camp, Buthidaung, BGP, Rathedaung, BGB.