Top UN court rejects Myanmar objections in Rohingya genocide trial

Special to BenarNews
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Top UN court rejects Myanmar objections in Rohingya genocide trial Rohingya siblings fleeing violence hold one another as they cross the Naf River along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border near Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, Nov. 1, 2017.
Adnan Abidi/Reuters

Updated at 2:50 p.m. ET on 2022-07-22

The International Court of Justice on Friday rejected all of Myanmar’s objections to a case brought against it by Gambia, which accuses the Southeast Asian country of genocide against the mainly Muslim Rohingya minority.

Myanmar’s military regime had lodged four preliminary objections claiming that the ICJ, based in The Hague, did not have jurisdiction and the West African country of Gambia did not have the standing to bring the case over mass killings and forced expulsions of Rohingya in 2016 and 2017, hundreds of thousands of whom fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

The ruling, delivered at the Peace Palace in the Dutch city by Judge Joan E. Donoghue, the ICJ president, clears the way for the court to move on to the merits phase of the process and consider the factual evidence against Myanmar, a process that could take years.

The court found that all signatories to the 1948 Genocide Convention can and are obliged to act to prevent genocide, and that through its statements before the U.N. General Assembly in 2018 and 2019, Gambia had made clear to Myanmar its intention to bring a case to the ICJ based on the conclusion of a U.N. fact-finding mission into the allegations of genocide, Donoghue said.

“Myanmar could not have been unaware of the fact that The Gambia had expressed the view that it would champion an accountability mechanism for the alleged crimes against the Rohingya,” the judge said.

The military that overthrew Myanmar’s elected government in February 2021 is embroiled in fighting with pro-democracy paramilitaries across wide swathes of the country, and reports have emerged of troops torturing, raping and killing civilians.

In the initial hearing of the case in 2019, Gambia said that “from around October 2016 the Myanmar military and other Myanmar security forces began widespread and systematic ‘clearance operations’ … against the Rohingya group.”

“The genocidal acts committed during these operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses. From August 2017 onward, such genocidal acts continued with Myanmar’s resumption of ‘clearance operations’ on a more massive and wider geographical scale.”

Thousands died in the raids in August 2017, when the military cleared and burned Rohingya communities in western Myanmar, killing, torturing and raping locals. The violent campaign forced more than 740,000 people to flee to squalid refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh. That exodus followed a 2016 crackdown that drove out more than 90,000 Rohingya from Rakhine.

The Gambia has called on Myanmar to stop persecuting the Rohingya, punish those responsible for the genocide, offer reparations to the victims and provide guarantees that there would be no repeat of the crimes against the Rohingya.

The Myanmar junta’s delegation protested at a hearing on Feb. 25, saying the ICJ had no right to hear the case. It lodged four objections, all of which the ICJ rejected on Friday.

Gambia Attorney Gen. Dawda Jallow (left photo) and Myanmar’s agent, Union Minister Ko Ko Hlaing speak to reporters outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, July 22, 2022. [AP]

Joy in Bangladesh

In Bangladesh, the decision was greeted with joy by the displaced Rohingya community.

Khin Mong, founder of the Rohingya Youth Association and a resident of the Unchiprang refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, told BenarNews that the ICJ’s ruling would benefit “all oppressed ethnic groups in Myanmar, not just the Rohingya.”

“Insha’Allah, the Rohingyas will one day receive justice. I believe the international court’s final decision will also be in our favor,” he said.

BenarNews also spoke to Abul Kalam, a Rohinyga refugee living at Camp Majhi in Jadimura, Teknaf.

“Until death, every Rohingya will seek justice for this genocide,” he said. ”The Gambia has prepared the path for a fair trial for us. We are now more optimistic about it.”

Tun Khin, president of the U.K.-based Burma Rohingya Organization, who attended Friday’s court proceeding, called the ICJ ruling “good news for all citizens of Myanmar.”

“The ICJ court proceeding will continue and justice will be served for all Rohingya, who have been victims of a genocide,” he said.

“I believe the forthcoming court hearings will verify that the military has intentionally committed crimes against the Rohingya population, with genocidal intent.”

In a post on Twitter, Gambia’s Ministry of Justice welcomed the ruling, calling it “a major win for The Gambia in its fight for Justice for the Rohyinga.”

Friday’s ruling was also welcomed by the international human rights community.

“The ICJ decision opens the door toward an overdue reckoning with the Myanmar military’s murderous campaign against the Rohingya population,” said Elaine Pearson, acting Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

“By holding the military to account for its atrocities against the Rohingya, the World Court could provide the impetus for greater international action toward justice for all victims of the Myanmar security forces’ crimes.”

Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights, called the ruling “momentous.”

“Jurisdiction in this case is settled,” he said. “The international community should immediately get behind The Gambia in this case and support other efforts across mechanisms to hold the Myanmar military to account for its horrific crimes against the people of Myanmar.”

Rohingya who spent four days in the open after crossing over from Myanmar into Bangladesh, carry their belongings after they were allowed to proceed toward a refugee camp, at Palong Khali, Bangladesh. Oct. 19, 2017. [AP]

The ICJ is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations and was established in 1945 to settle disputes in accordance with international law through binding judgments with no right of appeal.

The United States, meanwhile, has also accused Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya.

Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared in March that “Burma’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity with the intent to destroy predominantly Muslim Rohingya in 2017.”

The State Department said the military junta continues to oppress the Rohingya, putting 144,000 in internal displacement camps in Rakhine state by the end of last year. A State Department report last month noted that Rohingya also face travel restrictions within the country and the junta has made no effort to bring refugees back from Bangladesh.

Myanmar, a country of 54 million people about the size of France, recognizes 135 official ethnic groups, with Burmans accounting for about 68 percent of the population.

The Rohingya, whose ethnicity is not recognized by the government, have faced decades of discrimination in Myanmar and are effectively stateless, denied citizenship. Myanmar administrations have refused to call them “Rohingya” and instead use the term “Bengali.”

The atrocities against the Rohingya were committed during the tenure of the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who in December 2019 defended the military against allegations of genocide at the ICJ. The Nobel Peace Prize winner and one-time democracy icon now languishes in prison – toppled by the same military in last year’s coup.

In February, the National Unity Government (NUG), formed by former Myanmar lawmakers who operate as a shadow government in opposition to the military junta, said they accepted the authority of the ICJ to decide if the 2016-17 campaign against Rohingya constituted a genocide, and would withdraw all preliminary objections in the case.

“It is hard to predict how long this case could take to reach the final verdict. Most likely it could take several years, even a decade,” said Aung Htoo, a Myanmar human rights lawyer and the principal at the country’s Federal Legal Academy.

Abdur Rahman in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, contributed to this report which was produced mainly by Radio Free Asia, an online news service affiliated with BenarNews.


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Jul 28, 2022 08:33 AM



Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization in Malaysia (MERHROM) is deeply saddened and heartbroken on the executions of 4 Myanmar pro-democracy activists namely Kyaw Min Yu, Phyo Zeyar Thaw, Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw in Myanmar recently. This is a great loss not only to the family members and friends but to the people of Myanmar.

We must emphasize that pro-democracy activists are not terrorist but the real terrorist is Myanmar military who murdered its own people in barbaric ways. Myanmar military has conducted long decades of genocide against the Rohingya where millions of Rohingya were killed as direct and indirect consequences of genocide. Since the military coup in 2021, more people of Myanmar have been persecuted and killed.

Myanmar military is a real terrorist. Ironically, Myanmar military executes its own people by accusing them of being terrorists. The people of Myanmar are the freedom fighters for the country. The military junta can kill our bodies, but the military junta can never kill our belief and what we stood for. The new generation of Myanmar will continue their struggles to fight for freedom, peace and justice.

We urge the UN member states and the international community to take immediate actions to prevent further killing. We understand there are about 113 persons under the execution list. We request the UN member states and the international community to continue to support the people of Myanmar and save all people of Myanmar.

We urged all countries to take any possible actions to prevent further killing. Strategic actions must be executed to stop the Myanmar military from killing more people. We would like to reiterate the call by Mr. Thomas Andrews, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar that the U.N. Security Council should "pass a strong resolution of not only condemnation, but clear strategic action, sanctions, economic sanctions and arms embargo," (Reuters).

Thank you.


Yours sincerely,

Zafar Ahmad Abdul Ghani
Myanmar Ethnic Rohingya Human Rights Organization in Malaysia (MERHROM)
Tel No: +6016-6827 287