Two Myanmar soldiers have been taken to The Hague after confessing to murdering Rohingya minority during a 2017 crackdown, two news organisations and a rights group have reported.
The two men admitted to killing dozens of villagers in northern Rakhine state and burying them in mass graves, according to the New York Times, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and the non-profit Fortify Rights, citing statements the men made on videos filmed in Myanmar this year.
Reuters news agency on Tuesday said it has not seen the videos cited by the news organisations.
The New York Times said it could not independently confirm that the two soldiers committed the crimes to which they confessed.
Myanmar government and military spokesmen did not answer calls seeking comment.
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The reports said the men had been in the custody of the Arakan Army group, which is now fighting Myanmar government troops in Rakhine state, when they made the admissions and were later taken to The Hague in the Netherlands, where they could appear as witnesses or face trial.
It was not clear from the reports how the men fell into the hands of the Arakan Army, why they were speaking, or how they were transported to The Hague and under whose authority.
A spokesman for the International Criminal Court (ICC), based in The Hague, said it did not have the men in custody.
“No. These reports are not correct. We don’t have these persons in the ICC custody,” said the spokesman, Fadi el Abdallah.
Payam Akhavan, a Canadian lawyer representing Bangladesh in a filing against Myanmar at the ICC, said the two men had appeared at a border post requesting the protection of the government and had confessed to the mass murder and rape of Rohingya civilians in 2017.
“All I can say is that those two individuals are no longer in Bangladesh,” he said.
A spokesman for the Arakan Army, Khine Thu Kha, said the two men were deserters and were not held as prisoners of war.
He did not comment further on where the men were now but said the group was “committed to justice” for all victims of the Myanmar military.
Myanmar has repeatedly denied allegations of genocide, saying its military operations in 2017 were targeting Rohingya rebels who attacked police border posts.
Speaking from the Hague, Al Jazeera’s Step Vaessen said that the case had been stalled for a long time because Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome Statute, the basis for ICC. But with Bangladesh being a signatory, the ICC has ruled that is has jurisdiction over the case
“Part of the crimes that happened in Myanmar, were happening in Bangladesh as well. For example, the forced deportations, where hundreds of thousands of ethnic Rohingya were deported to Bangladesh. That’s why the case has been speeding up since last November,” she said.
“The court has ordered the investigation to be continued and if we have these two former military men… if they say they were involved and have given a very detailed account of what they did and who was with them, then this will be an enormous move for this investigation.”
Commenting from Amman, Antonia Mulvey, executive director of Legal Action Worldwide, said that if the evidence turns out to be credible, it would be a huge push for the investigation.
“While the ICC has made no comment on whether or not they have them [the men] in custody, the stories [of the soldiers] are said to be credible and corroborative,” she said explaining that the statements included a mention of ordered killings and rape.
“While they [the soldiers] may be very low in the ranks, we hope more will come forward. There was shown to be a clear chain of command,” she added.
The ICC is investigating the crime against humanity of forced deportation of Rohingya to Bangladesh, as well as persecution and other human rights violations.
“The office does not publicly comment on speculation or reports regarding its ongoing investigations, neither does the office discuss specifics of any aspect of its investigative activities,” a statement from the ICC prosecutor’s office said.
Myanmar is also facing charges of genocide at the International Court of Justice, also in The Hague, though that body does not bring cases against individuals or hear witnesses.
In 2015, before the alleged 2017 genocide, Al Jazeera’s Investigative Unit revealed the inner workings of the Myanmar regime, drawing on documents from the Myanmar military, an unpublished United Nations report and other government paperwork.
Those documents, assessed by Yale University Law School and the International State Crime Initiative at Queen Mary University of London, constituted “strong evidence” of a state-led genocide according to experts.