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German filing alleges war crimes in Burma

by GRANT PECK The Associated Press | January 25, 2023 at 4:46 a.m.
Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith talks to reporters during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The human rights group and 16 people from Myanmar have filed a criminal complaint in Germany seeking punishment of Myanmar's generals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity they alleged were committed in that country after their 2021 government takeover and during a 2017 crackdown on Muslim Rohingya. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)

BANGKOK -- A human-rights group and 16 people from Burma have filed a criminal complaint in Germany seeking punishment of the country's generals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity that alleged to have been committed in that country after their 2021 government takeover and during a 2017 crackdown on minority Rohingya Muslims.

Fortify Rights, a complainant in the case announced Tuesday in Bangkok, said "the individuals responsible for crimes related to both have yet to be held accountable."

Ines Peterson, spokesperson for Germany's federal prosecutor's office, confirmed that the legal complaint had been received but said she could not immediately elaborate. The office would have to decide whether to file an indictment before the matter can go to court, a potentially lengthy process.

The actions of Burma's generals are also under investigation by the International Criminal Court and in a genocide case at the International Court of Justice, also known as the World Court.

Activists seeking accountability have also filed cases in national courts in Argentina, Turkey and now Germany as well, under the concept of universal jurisdiction.

The legal principle allows prosecution for mass atrocities regardless of location or nationality when the offenses are so severe that they represent crimes against the entire international community, said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer and co-founder of Fortify Rights.

"An investigation and subsequent prosecution of these crimes under German law would serve to punish those who have committed the gravest of crimes, prevent future crimes by perpetrators in Burma and signal to other would-be perpetrators in Burma and elsewhere that accountability for atrocity crimes cannot be avoided," Fortify Rights said in a statement.

Burma is often called Myanmar, a name military authorities adopted in 1989. Some nations, such as the United States and Britain, have refused to adopt the name change.

About 740,000 Rohingya fled into neighboring Bangladesh after their villages were burned and they became targets for mass rape and murder. The military is accused of carrying out similar atrocities against people throughout Burma who opposed the 2021 army takeover and sought a return to democracy, finally taking up arms when their peaceful protests were quashed with deadly force.

About half of the 16 people who brought the German complaint are victims of the brutality against the Rohingya and the others who suffered abuses carried out after the 2021 army takeover.

According to Fortify Rights, the latter includes students, scholars, farmers, former village heads and homemakers and are from multiple ethnic groups.

The complaint filed Friday with Germany's federal prosecutor's office "includes substantial evidence showing that senior military junta officials exercised superior responsibility over subordinates who committed crimes, knew about their subordinates' crimes and failed to take any action to prevent the crimes from happening and to punish the perpetrators," Fortify Rights said.

The group said the evidence submitted in the complaint includes interviews with survivors, leaked documents and information from Burmese military and police deserters and previous reports compiled by U.N. investigators and other parties.

Information for this article was contributed by Frank Jordans of The Associated Press.

  photo  FILE - A Myanmar security officer walks past burned Rohingya houses in Ka Nyin Tan village of suburb Maungdaw, northern Rakhine state of western Myanmar on Sept. 6, 2017. A human rights group and 16 people from Myanmar have filed a criminal complaint in Germany seeking punishment of Myanmar's generals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity they alleged were committed in that country after their 2021 government takeover and during a 2017 crackdown on Muslim Rohingya. (AP Photo, File)
 
 
  photo  FILE - Protesters run after police shot warning shots and used water cannon to disperse them during a protest in Mandalay, Myanmar on Feb. 9, 2021. A human rights group and 16 people from Myanmar have filed a criminal complaint in Germany seeking punishment of Myanmar's generals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity they alleged were committed in that country after their 2021 government takeover and during a 2017 crackdown on Muslim Rohingya. (AP Photo, File)
 
 
  photo  Co-founder and Chief Executive Officer of Fortify Rights Matthew Smith holds a criminal complaint during a news conference in Bangkok, Thailand, Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2023. The human rights group and 16 people from Myanmar have filed a criminal complaint in Germany seeking punishment of Myanmar's generals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity they alleged were committed in that country after their 2021 government takeover and during a 2017 crackdown on Muslim Rohingya. (AP Photo/Sakchai Lalit)
 
 

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