Yangon/The Hague, 23 January 2020 (dpa/MIA) – The United Nation’s 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) ruled unanimously on Thursday 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 and argued that Myanmar‘s military 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 into Bangladesh during a military campaign in 2017. Myanmar maintained the operation was aimed at rooting out Rohingya insurgents who had attacked border patrol posts.
Rohingya arrived in 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.
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.
“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.
Writing in the Financial Times ahead of the ruling, Suu Kyi acknowledged the possibility that Myanmar‘s military committed war crimes but said the country must be allowed to pursue justice on its own, without international interference.
“War crimes that may have been committed by members of the Defence Services will be prosecuted through our military justice system,” she said.
“We need to respect the integrity of these proceedings and to refrain from unreasonable demands that Myanmar‘s criminal justice system complete investigations in a third of the time routinely granted to international processes.”
Rights groups have dismissed domestic efforts to prosecute soldiers as a whitewash aimed at protecting senior military figures from justice.
Observers who for years lauded Suu Kyi as a human rights icon have struggled to explain her decision to defend the same military that once kept her under house arrest.
Suu Kyi has made it clear that she supports Myanmar‘s military – which was founded by her father – and her government’s rhetoric has left little doubt as to how she regards the Rohingya: her office dismissed accounts of mass sexual violence by soldiers against Rohingya women in 2016 as “Fake Rape.”