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Myanmar must prevent genocide against Rohingya, UN top court rules

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The United Nations’ top court delivered a victory for Rohingya people Thursday, calling on Myanmar to enact emergency measures to prevent genocide against the Muslim minority.

In a unanimous 17-0 decision, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) rejected Myanmar’s argument that the deaths of the Rohingya were part of an “armed military conflict.”

As part of the first step in a legal case that is expected to go on for years, the ICJ ordered Myanmar to “take all measures within its power” to end its military violence against the Muslim Rohingya community.

Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, president of the court, said in his order that the Rohingya in Myanmar “remain extremely vulnerable.”

Gambia filed the suit in November last year and accused Myanmar of “committing genocide” against the Rohingya. The case, which was put before the ICJ in The Hague, centres around a counterinsurgency campaign waged by Myanmar’s military in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack.

Gambia asked the ICJ to order “provisional measures” to prevent more harm and ensure any evidence of Myanmar’s alleged crimes be preserved.

The court itself has no enforcement powers, but its decisions are binding and not subject to appeal. In the past, countries have occasionally ignored or failed to adhere fully to ICJ rulings.

Bob Rae, Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar, told Global News the ruling was “an exercise in accountability.”

“We accept jurisdiction, and we’re going to hear further arguments about whether or not this actually is a genocide and a breach of the Genocide Convention.”

In an ideal world, Rae said the government of Myanmar would recognize the Rohingya people are citizens and deserve to be treated with dignity and live in security as full citizens in Rakhine state, but “the reality is there are no signs of that happening.”

Rae also specified that the ruling does not determine whether or not genocide was committed but, rather, whether Canada and the UN have any jurisdiction “to try and get Myanmar to behave differently.”

While the ICJ cannot force Myanmar to comply with its ruling, Rae said it was important the plight of the Rohingya be made public.

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