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Burmese lawyers test the water at the ICC

Dec 1, 2009 (DVB), Action could be taken on the Burmese junta at the International Criminal Court if a signatory to the Rome Statute is known to be cooperating with the ruling generals, the ICC prosecution chief has said.

The comments came during a discussion between Asian civil society groups and representatives from six Asia-Pacific governments at the World Forum at The Hague, Netherlands.

According to Aung Htoo, chairperson of the exiled Burma Lawyers' Council, who represented Burma at the discussion, the UN security council (UNSC) was failing to bring the junta to the ICC, although action was still possible.

"The ICC's Prosecution Chief said that even though Burma did not sign the Rome Statute, action could still be taken if it is proved that an individual, a group or a company in one of the court's 110 signatory countries have been cooperating with the [junta]," he said.

The Rome Statute is the treaty that established the ICC, and was brought into force in July 2002.

Burma is one of 38 countries not to have signed it. Both the United States and Israel have "unsigned" the statute, meaning they have no legal obligations pertaining to their signature.

Aung Htoo told the forum that the UNSC had so far failed to act on the Burmese government's revised constitution, ratified in the weeks following cyclone Nargis last May, which endorses a law of impunity in breach of two UNSC resolutions.

"The UNSC quashed the 1983 constitution in South Africa under resolution 554 because that constitution, if approved, could prolong discrimination between skin colours and thus could lead to worsening of situation in the country," said a BLC press release.

"The same kind of consequence is likely to happen in Burma, so an approach based on international law should be made for the 2010 elections which will implement the 2008 constitution."

A group of British MPs last week submitted a parliamentary motion calling for the UN to investigate possible crimes against humanity and war crimes in Burma.

The petition said that Burmese civilians are the targets of "widespread torture, forced displacement, sexual violence, extra-judicial killings and forced labour" by the military government.

It is one of several high profile calls for legal action to be brought against the junta, which has ruled Burma in various forms since 1962.

Earlier this year, a group of internationally renowned jurists, including Sir Geoffrey Nice, deputy prosecutor at the trial of Serbian leader Slobadan Milosevic, said that human rights violations in Burma were comparable to Dafur, and should be investigated by the UNSC.

The BLC warned that "there will be even worse cases of impunity in Burma if the 2010 elections are held without a revision of the 2008 constitution".

Reporting by Maung Too


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