Updated: Mar 30, 2020
ICJ DECISION FOR ROHINGYA : Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (The Gambia v. Myanmar)
The unanimous ruling of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the prevention of alleged acts of genocide against Rohingya Muslims has finally pinned legal responsibility on Myanmar’s government for the military’s large-scale excesses of 2017. The International Court of Justice (ICJ) also ordered authorities to prevent the destruction of evidence related to genocide allegations.
CASE FILED BY GAMBIA : The case against Myanmar was brought to the ICJ in November by The Gambia, on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), arguing that the mainly-Muslim Rohingya had been subjected to crimes of genocide under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
FACTS OF THE CASE :
The Rohingya primarily reside in Rakhine state in northern Myanmar, a majority Buddhist country.
More than 700,000 members fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a reported military crackdown in August 2017 during which numerous alleged human rights abuses were committed.
According to news reports, around 600,000 Rohingya remain inside the country, and remain extremely vulnerable to attacks and persecution, said the court.
ORDER OF THE ICJ :
In its ruling, the ICJ imposed “provisional measures” against Myanmar, ordering the country to comply with obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
Myanmar is urged to “take all measures within its power” to prevent the killing of Rohingya, or causing bodily or mental harm to members of the group, including by the military or “any irregular armed units”.
The country also has to submit a report to the ICJ within four months, with additional reports due every six months “until a final decision on the case is rendered by the Court.”
TESTIMONY OF AUNG SAN SUU KYI :
Last December, Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, testified at the start of court proceedings on behalf of her country and described the case as “an incomplete and misleading factual picture” of events in Rakhine state.
She told the court military leaders would be put on trial if found guilty, stressing that “if war crimes have been committed, they will be prosecuted within our own military justice system.” This ruling amounts to a rejection of those arguments, and the ICJ’s orders are binding on Myanmar, despite being provisional.
The court’s orders will be passed on for consideration by the UN Security Council, although a final court judgement in the case is expected to take years, according to news reports.
IMPORTANCE OF THIS JUDGMENT :
The ruling vindicates findings by the UN and human rights groups on the prevalence of hate speech, mass atrocities of rape and extra-judicial killings, and torching of villages in Myanmar’s Rakhine province, leading to the forced migration of thousands to Bangladesh.
Arguing the defence in person during the three-day public hearings last month, Ms. Suu Kyi, who was elected in 2016 as defacto leader of Myanmar, insisted that the 2017 violence was proportionate to the threat of insurgency. She even questioned the Gambia’s standing to bring the suit, saying that there was no bilateral dispute.
Rejecting the ICJ’s ruling, Myanmar’s Foreign Ministry has accused rights groups of presenting the Court with a distorted picture of the prevailing situation. In a statement, it defended the army’s action as a legitimate response to violations of the law by the insurgent Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. However, the above claim is at odds with the findings this week of an Independent Commission of Enquiry established by the government
The Commission acknowledged that war crimes had indeed been committed during the military campaign, when about 900 people were killed. But there was nothing to back the assertions of gang-rape, or evidence to presume any intent of genocide, it held.
WAY FORWARD : Although it could take years before the court pronounces the final verdict in the genocide case, this injunction is an important victory for the refugees languishing in Bangladeshi camps. It empowers the UN Security Council to prevail upon Myanmar to take appropriate measures for the rehabilitation and repatriation of displaced communities. As the biggest regional player, China could play a constructive role to ensure a speedy return to normalcy in its neighbourhood. India has its own interests in an amicable resolution of Myanmar’s internal dispute. Above all, finding closure to the current dispute would mark the completion of Myanmar’s return to civilian rule.
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