THE HAGUE, The Netherlands The World Court on Friday, July 22, rejected Myanmar’s objections to a genocide case over its treatment of the Muslim Rohingya minority, paving the way for the case to be heard in full.
Myanmar, now ruled by a military junta that seized power in 2021, had argued that Gambia, which brought the suit, had no standing to do so at the top United Nations court, formally known as the International Court of Justice.
But presiding Judge Joan Donoghue said the 13 judge panel found that all members of the 1948 Genocide Convention can and are obliged to act to prevent genocide, and the court has jurisdiction in the case.
“Gambia, as a state party to the Genocide convention, has standing,” she said, reading a summary of the ruling.
The court will now proceed to hearing the merits of the case, a process that will take years.
Gambia, which took up the cause after its then-attorney general visited a refugee camp in Bangladesh, argues that all countries have a duty to uphold the 1948 Genocide Convention. It is backed by the 57-nation Organization for Islamic Cooperation in a suit aiming to hold Myanmar accountable and prevent further bloodshed.
Gambia Justice Minister Dawda Jallow said outside the courtroom he was “very happy” with the decision and was confident the suit would prevail.
Gambia became involved after his predecessor, Abubacarr Tambadou, a former prosecutor at the UN Rwanda tribunal, visited a refugee camp in Bangladesh and said that the stories he heard evoked memories of the genocide in Rwanda.
A representative for Myanmar said that the state would do its “utmost” to protect the country’s “national interest” in further proceedings.
Protesters outside the court’s gates hoisted a red banner with the text “Free Burma” and yelled at cars carrying the junta’s representatives leaving the building after the decision.
A separate UN fact-finding mission concluded that a 2017 military campaign by Myanmar that drove 730,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh had included “genocidal acts”.
Myanmar has denied genocide, rejecting the UN findings as “biased and flawed”. It says its crackdown was aimed at Rohingya rebels who had carried out attacks.
While the court’s decisions are binding and countries generally follow them, it has no way of enforcing them.
In a 2020 provisional decision it ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya from genocide, a legal victory that established their right under international law as a protected minority.
However Rohingya groups and rights activists say there has been no meaningful attempt to end their systemic persecution and what Amnesty International has called a system of apartheid.
Rohingya are still denied citizenship and freedom of movement in Myanmar. Tens of thousands have now been confined to squalid displacement camps for a decade.
Bangladesh’s foreign ministry welcomed the judgment in a statement.
“For the victims living in the camps in Bangladesh as well as in Myanmar, they see the hope that justice will be delivered to them and that the perpetrators in the Myanmar military will be brought to accountability,” said Ambia Parveen of the European Rohingya Council outside the court.
The junta has imprisoned democratic leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who defended Myanmar personally in 2019 hearings in The Hague. – Rappler.com