Top UN Court Orders Myanmar To Protect Its Persecuted Rohingya Minority

The Gambia, supported by the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), filed a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) late last year. The lawsuit accuses Myanmar of genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority. In response, Naypyidaw, Myanmar’s capital, was ordered by the ICJ to “take all measures within its power” to protect the Rohingya community on January 23, 2020.

The Rohingya are a stateless, mostly Muslim, minority group in Myanmar, who primarily reside in Rakhine state. Deep-seated tensions between the Rohingya and the Buddhist population have resulted in deadly communal violence in the region. While the group has faced persecution since the inception of modern Myanmar, events of August 25, 2018 instigated a vicious crackdown by Myanmar’s military. On August 25, Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) insurgents, armed with knives and home-made bombs launched a deadly attack on 30 police posts in Rakhine state, killing 12 security personnel. In response, Myanmar’s security forces initiated a systematic crackdown on the Rohingya, wherein villages were burned, and civilians brutally attacked, raped and killed. Subsequently, as many as 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh, according to UN estimates. To analyse the situation, the UN sent an Independent International Fact-Finding Mission to Myanmar, which stated that the army’s tactics were “grossly disproportionate to actual security threats” and that “military necessity would never justify killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children, and burning entire villages.”

The Gambia’s lawsuit is also supported by the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, of which Myanmar is a signatory. According to BBC, The Gambia asked the ICJ to implement an injunction to ensure that Myanmar “stops atrocities and genocide against its own Rohingya people,” effective immediately. “All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings,” Gambia’s attorney general and minister of justice said.

Myanmar has vehemently opposed all allegations of genocidal intent, with their State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi stating that “[The] Gambia has placed an incomplete and misleading picture of the factual situation…” Furthermore, days before the verdict was issued by the ICJ, the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), set up by the Myanmar government issued a statement addressing The Gambia’s accusations. ICOE’s statement says that “there is insufficient evidence to argue, much less conclude, that the crimes committed were undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group, or with any other requisite mental state for the international crime of genocide.”

However, the Global Justice Centre has cast doubt on ICOE’s independence. “This commission is just yet another domestic attempt to deflect responsibility and whitewash the situation of the Rohingya,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Centre.

While the ruling by ICJ is legally binding under international law, it is also vital to consider the limitations of such legislation. Despite being legally binding, the ICJ’s ruling cannot be physically enforced on Myanmar. Since Naypyidaw has vehemently opposed the allegations of the genocide of the Rohingya people, it has the option of exercising its sovereignty by completely disregarding the ruling. However, the consequences of doing so would be wide-spread condemnation by other states and potential sanctions, which could jeopardise Myanmar’s economic progress. Ultimately, it is up to the leaders of Myanmar to take responsibility and peacefully end this vicious crackdown on its Rohingya minority.