ICJ to rule on Myanmar’s objections to Rohingya genocide case this month

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) plans to deliver its judgement on Myanmar’s objections to the genocide case brought against it by The Gambia, on July 22.

In a statement issued Monday the ICJ said a public sitting of the court will take place at 3 p.m. at the Peace Palace in the Dutch city of The Hague. The President of the Court, Judge Joan E. Donoghue, will read out the ICJ’s decision.

A Rohingya Muslim in Buthidaung Township in northern Rakhine State, who was subjected to human rights abuses by the military, told RFA that the perpetrators should be brought to justice.

“There is evidence of genocide against Rohingya Muslims by Myanmar’s army in 2017,” he said. “On-site inspection is available. The villages of Buthidaung and Maungdaw were destroyed. The residents fled to Bangladesh in fear of being killed by Myanmar’s army. No matter how much they deny it, we know our people suffered. Therefore, we want effective action against their genocide in accordance with the law.”

The Gambia’s parliament approved the plan to bring genocide charges in July 2019, after the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) proposed to the West African Nation that it should prosecute Myanmar. It instituted proceedings in November of the same year alleging genocide through “acts adopted, taken and condoned by the Government of Myanmar against members of the Rohingya group.” The Gambia has not denied that it received funding for the legal action from the OIC.

In the initial hearing The 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 onwards, such genocidal acts continued with Myanmar’s resumption of ‘clearance operations’ on a more massive and wider geographical scale.”

The military council’s delegation protested at a hearing on Feb. 25 this year, saying the ICJ has no right to hear the case.

Christopher Staker, a lawyer hired by the military council, argued the international community should not be allowed to prosecute Myanmar and the court has no jurisdiction to hear the case.

Calls to the military council spokesman by RFA went unanswered Tuesday. Some local media outlets quoted an unnamed senior foreign ministry official as saying Myanmar’s delegation to the ICJ, led by the Military Council’s International Relations Minister Ko Ko Hlaing, plans to travel to The Hague to hear the ICJ’s judgment.

The ICJ said the hearing at the Peace Palace will be closed to the public to observe Coronavirus restrictions. Only members of the Court and representatives of the States party to the case will be allowed to enter the Great hall of Justice. Members of diplomatic corps and the public will be able to follow the procedures on a live webcast on the Court’s website as well as UN Web TV.

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 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 U.S. has also accused Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya. Secretary of State Antony Blinken ruled in March this year that “Burma’s military committed genocide and crimes against humanity with the intent to destroy predominantly Muslim Rohingya in 2017.”

That was the year the military cleared 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 neighboring Bangladesh.

The State Department said the military junta that seized power in the Feb. 2021 coup 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.

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