THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS — In a sweeping legal victory for members of the Rohingya minority, the United Nations (UN)’s top court yesterday ordered Myanmar take all measures in its power to prevent genocide against the Rohingya people. The court’s President Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said the International Court of Justice (ICJ) “is of the opinion that the Rohingya in Myanmar remain extremely vulnerable”.
The court added that its order for so-called provisional measures intended to protect the Rohingya is binding “and creates international legal obligations” on Myanmar. At the end of an hour-long sitting in Great Hall of Justice, judges also ordered Myanmar to report to them in four months on what measures the country has taken to comply with the order and then to report every six months as the case moves slowly through the world court.
Rights activists immediately welcomed the unanimous decision. “The ICJ order to Myanmar to take concrete steps to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya is a landmark step to stop further atrocities against one of the world’s most persecuted people,” said Associate International Justice Director of New York-based Human Rights Watch Parampreet Singh. “Concerned governments and UN bodies should now weigh in to ensure that the order is enforced as the genocide case moves forward.”
The world court order for what it calls provisional measures came in a case brought by the African nation of Gambia on behalf of an organisation of nations that accuses Myanmar of genocide in its crackdown on the Rohingya.
At public hearings last month, lawyers for Myanmar’s accusers used maps, satellite images and graphic photos to detail what they call a campaign of murder, rape and destruction amounting to genocide perpetrated by Myanmar’s military. The hearings drew intense scrutiny as Myanmar’s former pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi defended the campaign by military forces that once held her under house arrest for 15 years.Suu Kyi, who as Myanmar’s State counsellor heads the government, was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy and human rights under Myanmar’s then-ruling junta. She wasn’t present in court for yesterday’s hearing.
Suu Kyi told world court judges in December 2019 that the exodus was a tragic consequence of the military’s response to “coordinated and comprehensive armed attacks” by Rohingya insurgents. She urged judges to drop the genocide case and allow Myanmar’s military justice system to deal with any abuses.
Yesterday’s ruling came two days after an independent commission established by Myanmar’s government concluded there are reasons to believe security forces committed war crimes in counter-insurgency operations against the Rohingya, but that there is no evidence supporting charges that genocide was planned or carried out.
Pending release of the full report, Human Rights Watch Deputy Asia Director Phil Robertson, said the panel’s findings were “what would have been expected from a non-transparent investigation by a politically skewed set of commissioners working closely with the Myanmar government”.