Intl Court of Justice Set to Resume Hearings on Myanmar Genocide Case

Special to BenarNews
Rohingya refugees in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, watch on a mobile phone a live feed of former Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi's appearance at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands, on the second day of a hearing on the Rohingya genocide case, Dec. 11, 2019.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague will hold hearings this week to determine whether it has jurisdiction to judge if atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military against Rohingya Muslims constituted a genocide.

The West African nation of Gambia filed a case at the ICJ in November 2019 accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention through the alleged expulsion of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya from Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh amid a brutal crackdown in 2017.

Representatives of Myanmar and Gambia will present arguments as to whether the ICJ has jurisdiction to examine the claims, during the hearings scheduled for Feb. 21-28 that will include both in-person and virtual participants. The ICJ is the judicial arm of the United Nations.

The case is separate from an investigation by the International Criminal Court (ICC) on whether two waves of violence in Rakhine that led to the forced deportation of more than 740,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh represented a crime against humanity. The ICC can prosecute individuals, while the ICJ works as an arbiter in disputes among nations.

Myanmar’s military seized power from the democratically elected government in a Feb. 1, 2021, coup that ushered in a period of violence. Security forces have killed more than 1,560 people across the country since then.

Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG), a government in exile formed by elected leaders, had previously refused to accept the authority of the ICJ to decide if the 2016-17 scorched-earth campaign constituted genocide against Rohingya Muslims.

But the NUG recently changed its stance and urged The Hague court not to recognize the ruling military junta as the country’s representative.

Rohingya living in refugee camps in southeastern Bangladesh said they were hopeful that the ICJ could bring justice for the Myanmar military’s rights violations against the ethnic minority group.

Mohammad Nur, former general secretary of the Kutupalong Camp-2 East refugee camp in Cox’s Bazar, noted that the former government led by Aung San Suu Kyi had supported the military’s action in Rakhine, but now has reversed course.

“So, this changed scenario gives us hope,” he told BenarNews.

The Rohingya refugees are ineligible to become citizens in Myanmar under current policy. But last June, the NUG said that it planned to amend the country’s constitution to give citizenship to Rohingya, 300,000 of who still live in Rakhine state.

Nur said they wanted to return to their home country because the refugee camps where they now live are squalid and overcrowded and offer limited educational and employment opportunities.

“If the court decision comes out in our favor, the military government will come under international pressure and, hopefully, agree to give us citizenship,” he said. 

Jafar Alam, a Rohingya physician at the Kutupalong camp, told BenarNews that the NUG’s reversed position supporting the ICJ’s jurisdiction over the genocide case will bode well for the refugees.

“We, all the Rohingya people, have been waiting eagerly to hear a decision in favor of us,” he said. “If the ICJ decision comes out in our favor, then there will be no problem for us to go back to Myanmar.”

During a video-conference on the ICJ hearing hosted by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Feb. 17, Wai Wai Nu, a Rohingya activist and director of the Women’s Peace Network, said that the case “opens the door for accountability and justice for Rohingyas and many other communities” in Myanmar.

“It’s helped [people] to realize the enormity of the crimes against the ethnic communities and the people of Myanmar,” she said.

“It also raises the debate of justice and accountability domestically, not just internationally, which is very important for our country, Myanmar, because the questions of justice and accountability have always been under-discussed or dismissed,” she said.

Phil Robertson, HRW’s deputy Asia director, said his group was trying to get more nations to support the ICJ case.

“Hopefully, we’re getting closer and closer to our goal of breaking the cycle of impunity that the Tatmadaw [Myanmar military] has sustained throughout the course of modern Myanmar, causing untold suffering against the Burmese people.”

Reported by the Myanmar Service of Radio Free Asia and produced the RFA’s English Service. Kamran Reza Chowdhury of BenarNews contributed to this report. BenarNews is a unit of RFA.


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