The International Criminal Court ruled Thursday it has jurisdiction to investigate the alleged forced mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh as a possible crime against humanity.
The Hague-based court said the top prosecutor must consider the ruling "as she continues with her preliminary examination concerning the crimes allegedly committed against the Rohingya people."
The ruling came after chief prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, in an unprecedented move, asked judges for an opinion on whether she could investigate the deportations as a crime against humanity.
The preliminary probe, which aims to determine if there is sufficient evidence to launch a full investigation, "must be concluded within a reasonable time," the court said.
Myanmar is not a member of the court, but Bangladesh is — which was the basis of Bensouda's argument for jurisdiction. She compared deportation to "a cross-border shooting" that "is not completed until the bullet [fired in one country] strikes and kills the victim [in another country]."
About 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's northern Rakhine state into Bangladesh since August of last year to escape a military offensive that has resulted in torched villages and allegations of murder and rape by troops and vigilantes.
A special U.N. investigative panel accused Myanmar's military on August 27 of carrying out numerous atrocities during the crackdown against the Rohingya "with genocidal intent" after a series of Rohingya militant attacks on security outposts.
The panel, sanctioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council, concluded in a scathing report that Myanmar's military actions were "grossly disproportionate to actual security threats."
Investigators also denounced Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for failing to use her position and "her moral authority" to prevent the crisis.
Aung San Suu Kyi received a Nobel Peace Prize for her decades-long struggle against Myanmar's former military regime, but her global reputation has been tarnished for failing to speak out in support the Rohingya.