But he said this was a huge opportunity for the International Criminal Court, known as the I.C.C., to become more global. Though the court has opened some recent investigations involving Georgia, Afghanistan and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, many of its biggest cases have centered on atrocities in Africa.
“The I.C.C. has also struggled to show that it can deal with crimes committed by sitting members of governments, including high-ranking military officials,” Mr. Clark said.
The court has no police force of its own and depends on national governments to make arrests.
In the petition filed Wednesday, lawyers for the 400 Rohingya women and girls assert that Myanmar’s government is continuing “a persecutory and genocidal campaign that spans both Myanmar and Bangladesh.” The petition accuses the authorities in Myanmar of deportation, persecution, genocide and apartheid.
“If a person is illegally detained, the crime isn’t over until that person is released,” said Wayne Jordash, the lead human rights lawyer representing the Rohingya women. “Similarly, in this case, the crimes are ongoing. The Myanmar authorities are maintaining conditions for either the destruction of the group or so they can’t go home.”
A United Nations special rapporteur said earlier this year that the attacks on the Rohingya people bear the “hallmarks of genocide.”
The court is waiting on Bangladesh’s government to say what it thinks about the jurisdiction issue. So far a group of Bangladeshi scholars has come out in support of the court’s taking the case.
Myanmar has expressed “serious concern” about the prosecutor’s request for jurisdiction.
The Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority reviled by Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, have been persecuted for decades. In August, after Rohingya rebels attacked several police posts, witnesses said that Myanmar government soldiers stormed into villages and burned everything in sight.