The United Nations’ highest court has ordered Myanmar to “take all measures within its power” to prevent genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, ruled unanimously yesterday that Myanmar must ensure the military does not commit killings or other acts of genocide and must prevent the destruction of any evidence of such crimes.
Myanmar must submit a report within four months detailing the measures it is taking to comply, the court said.
The measures demanded by the court are provisional, and a final ICJ verdict on the case is expected to take years.
The case was brought by Gambia with the support of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
It argued that Myanmar’s military had committed mass rape, murder and arson in western Rakhine state in 2017, with genocidal intent, and that the genocide is ongoing.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh during a military campaign in 2017.
Myanmar maintained that the operation was aimed at rooting out Rohingya insurgents who had attacked border patrol posts.
Fleeing Rohingya arrived in neighbouring Bangladesh with widespread accounts of extreme brutality against civilians, including soldiers raping children and throwing babies into fires.
Those who remained in Myanmar faced severe restrictions on their freedom of movement and have been unable to access basic services, like health and education.
Rohingya celebrated the victory in front of the ICJ courthouse and human rights organisations welcomed the judgement.
It was “a landmark step to stop further atrocities against one of the world’s most persecuted people,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch.
A spokeswoman for European Union foreign policy chief Josep Borrell said Myanmar must now ensure that its military and security forces be brought to justice for human rights violations.
Protection of the Rohingya civilian population and access to humanitarian aid must be provided, she added, with conditions laid down for a safe return of the Rohingya to their land.
Bangladesh said it now expects Myanmar to make quick arrangements for Rohingya refugees’ repatriation, as per a 2017 agreement between the neighbours.
“I hope Myanmar will now act on its promise to take back the refugees from Bangladesh,” Foreign Minister Abul Kalam Abdul Momen told reporters in Dhaka yesterday.
Abdul called the decision “a victory for humanity” and “a milestone for human rights activists across the nations.”
The Rohingya Youth Association, a group based in the refugee camps in Bangladesh, welcomed the ruling.
“This is really helpful for Rohingya living inside Rakhine state,” group founder Khin Maung said.
Rohingya who remained in Rakhine state watched the ICJ ruling on their phones but were careful to do so indoors for fear of being caught and punished by security forces, he told DPA.
The ICJ’s measures are binding but the court cannot enforce them itself, and observers doubt Myanmar will comply.
“The chances of Aung San Suu Kyi implementing this ruling will be zero unless significant international pressure is applied,” said Anna Roberts, the executive director of the Burma Campaign UK group, referring the country’s de facto leader.
“So far, the international community has not been willing to apply pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi over her own appalling record on human rights,” Roberts said.
The UN Security Council can be called upon to apply political pressure to Myanmar if it doesn’t comply.
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