Five Myanmar nationals asked the Philippines on Wednesday to investigate alleged war crimes committed by 10 serving or former members of Myanmar’s military against the mainly Christian Chin minority.
Filipino lawyers representing the Myanmar nationals told reporters they lodged the “landmark” criminal complaint against junta chief Min Aung Hlaing and nine others at the Department of Justice in Manila.
They asked prosecutors to open an investigation into alleged war crimes under a Philippine law penalizing “crimes against international humanitarian law, genocide, and other crimes against humanity.”
The five Myanmar nationals are from western Chin state, but now live in Australia, Britain, Canada and India. They were at the justice department in Manila.
“This is a landmark suit because this is the very first time that such a case is being brought before the Philippines,” Romel Bagares, one of the lawyers, told reporters.
Justice Secretary Crispin Remulla said his department would “evaluate” the complaint, which he described as “very novel.”
“If this is sufficient in form and substance, that’s the time when we will require the respondents to answer these complaints,” Remulla told reporters.
Among the accused is Chin Chief Minister Vung Suan Thang, who is a former military officer. The others are serving members of the military.
The complaint alleged that members of Myanmar’s military killed a pastor and two church elders in Thantlang town, Chin, in September 2021.
It also accused the 10 of “intentionally” directing attacks on churches and the burning of hundreds of houses in the same town between August 2021 and June 2022.
They also allegedly blocked relief supplies from reaching people in Chin state in the aftermath of Cyclone Mocha in May.
‘Truly historic day’
Philippine law allows for the prosecution of war crimes committed elsewhere.
One of the stipulations of the law is that the accused must be present in the Philippines.
According to Gilbert Andres, another Filipino lawyer representing the Myanmar nationals, if the Philippine justice department were to decide to mount a case against the 10 accused, it could issue subpoenas to Myanmar’s Central Authority or go through diplomatic channels.
The toppling of Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government in a 2021 coup sparked a huge backlash and the military junta is now battling opponents across swaths of Myanmar.
Some of the bloodiest fighting has been happening in Christian-majority areas, including in Chin state.
“This is a truly historic day,” Salai Ling, one of the five complainants and also of the Chin Human Rights Organization, told reporters in Manila.
“We are really hoping that with the solidarity and support from the Filipino people and people in the ASEAN region, that we will be able to get some form of justice for the atrocities that our people suffered.”
Myanmar and the Philippines belong to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN). The regional bloc’s efforts to defuse the Myanmar crisis have been fruitless so far.
The Philippines is now the subject of an international human rights probe, with the Hague-based International Criminal Court investigating “possible crimes against humanity” during former president Rodrigo Duterte’s deadly drugs crackdown.
In July, President Ferdinand Marcos said the Philippines was “done talking with the ICC” but would continue to question the tribunal’s jurisdiction.