DOJ asked to prosecute Myanmar military junta officials for 'war crimes'

The Department of Justice (DOJ) was asked on Wednesday, Oct. 25, to prosecute officials of Myanmar’s military junta, the Tatmadaw, for alleged war crimes committed in the country’s Chin State.

Accompanied by their Filipino legal counsels from the Center for International Law (CenterLaw), five Myanmar nationals went to the DOJ to file a joint complaint-affidavit against the Myanmar officials for war crimes in violation of Section 4(b)(1), Section 4(c)(10), Section 4(c)(2), Section 4(c)(7) of Republic Act (RA) No. 9851, the Philippine Act on Crimes Against International Humanitarian Law, Genocide, and Other Crimes Against Humanity.

The complainants are all natives of Thantlang in the Chin State, namely, Mai Zong Tha Din Ral Tu, Pastor Ngun Thawng Lian, Salai Lai Lian, Salai Tha Peng Ling Hrang Lung, and Salai Za Uk Ling.

They named as respondents Sr. Gen. Min Aung Hlaing, chairman of the Myanmar State Administration Council and commander-in-chief of the Myanmar Defence Services and Tatmadaw; Chin State Chief Minister Dr. Vung Suang Thang; Lt. Gen.  Min Naing, chair of the Cyclone Mocha Emergency Response in Chin State; Lt. Gen. Tay Zar Kyaw, chief of the Bureau of Special Operations 1; Major Gen. Phyo Thant; Major Gen. Than Htike; Brg. Gen. Myo Htut Hlaing; Col. Saw Tun; Lt. Col. Myo Zin Tun; and Major Nay Myo Oo.

“First of all this is a truly historic day because we can’t find justice in our own country,” said Salai Ling, the deputy executive director of the Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO) which documents reported atrocities committed by the military regime of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.

“We are expecting the Philippines is where we can find some form of justice for the atrocities that our people suffered under the military regime in Burma,” Ling said. 

Ling said that Chin State, which is composed of 90 percent Christians, has been the target of attacks by the military junta in Myanmar which has been implementing the one Buddhist state policy since 1962.

“However, our suffering have not been paid much attention to by the rest of the international community,” he lamented.

“With this case we are hoping that some light will be shone on the plight of our people and that the Philippine government will consider our plea for justice here,” he said. 

The complaint accused the respondents of war crimes, in particular, the killing of a pastor and two church leaders; the intentional targeting and burning of Christian churches; the intentional targeting and destruction of houses; and the use of starvation as a military tactic during the Cyclone Mocha operations last May in Thatlang.

“Dito po nila dinala kasi bahagi po tayo ng Association of Southeast Asian Nations at karatig bansa po tayo ng Myanmar (The complainants decided to file the case here in the Philippines because we are part of ASEAN and near Myanmar),” said CenterLaw Executive Director Gilbert T. Andres.

“Ikalawa po, naniniwala po kami na meron po tayong napakalakas na batas and that’s Republic Act 9851, the IHL Act (Secondly, we believe we have a strong law and that is RA 9851, the International Human Rights Law Act),” he added.

Andres explained “nakalagay po na war crimes ay kriminal po at meron din po universal jurisdiction (the law states war crimes are criminal acts and the Philippines has universal jurisdiction).”

“Kaya naniniwala po sila hindi po nila kailangan pumunta sa mga western countries (The complainants believe that they no longer need to go to Western countries to file the complaints),” he said. 

“Pwede po sila pumunta dito sa Pilipinas kasi sinasabi naman po natin sa bansa po natin na we have a working justice system (They can go to the Philippines since we said we have a working justice system),” he pointed out.

The complainants cited Section 17 of the IHL states:

"The State shall exercise jurisdiction over persons, whether military or civilian, suspected or accused of a crime defined and penalized in this Act, regardless of where the crime is committed, provided, any one of the following conditions is met: (a)The accused is a Filipino citizen; (b)The accused, regardless of citizenship or residence, is present in the Philippines; or (c)The accused has committed the said crime against a Filipino citizen." 

“Under the doctrine of humanity recognized early on in Philippine jurisprudence and fully developed much later in the practice of international criminal tribunals, war crimes constituting serious violations of IHL are subject to mandatory universal jurisdiction of Philippine courts, without the requirement of a Philippine nexus (that is, the presence of the alleged perpetrator in the Philippines),” they said. 

Thus, they said "the Philippine nexus mentioned in Section 17 (b) of the IHL Act is actually an ‘express admissibility clause;' it addresses the fact that the exercise of mandatory universal jurisdiction by one state may intrude into the sovereign prerogatives of another state.”

"Section 17(b) merely emphasizes the need for serious care to be exercised by Philippine authorities in investigating and prosecuting foreign nationals on Philippine soil suspected or accused of serious violations of IHL, given a customary international law (CIL) obligation to protect the rights of foreign nationals within its territory,” they also said. 

“As an alternative or subsidiary argument, textualist analysis of the relevant provisions of the IHL Act – at the very least – provides warrant for the conclusion that the Philippine Department of Justice (DOJ) should hear a complaint for war crimes under the law for purposes of probable cause, subject to the operation of the principle of reverse complementarity recognized for the first time by the Philippine Supreme Court in the case of Pangilinan v Cayetano,” they added.