UN court rejects Myanmar challenge in Rohingya genocide case
The UN’s highest court on Friday ruled that a landmark case accusing military-ruled Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya minorities can continue.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague rejected all Myanmar’s objections to a case brought by the West African nation of Gambia in 2019.
The decision paves the way for full court hearings on allegations of a bloody crackdown in 2017 against the Rohingya by majority Buddhist Myanmar.
“The court is of the opinion that it has jurisdiction to hear the request from the Republic of Gambia and that the request is admissible,” said ICJ President Joan Donoghue.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya minorities fled the Southeast Asian country during the operation five years ago, carrying harrowing reports of murder, rape and arson.
About 850,000 Rohingya languish in camps in neighboring Bangladesh, while another 600,000 Rohingya reside in Myanmar’s southwestern Rakhine state.
Gambian Justice Minister Dawda Jallow told reporters outside the court that he was “delighted that the court has done justice”.
Several dozen Rohingya activists demonstrated outside the court as the verdict was read.
‘Great moment for justice’
“This decision is a great moment for justice for the Rohingya and for all people in Burma,” said Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, referring to the country by its former name.
“We are delighted that this historic genocide process can finally begin in earnest.”
Myanmar’s representative, Attorney General Thida Oo, said her country is now “looking at finding the best way to protect our people and our country.”
The Gambia, mostly Muslim, filed the case in November 2019 alleging that Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya was contrary to the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention.
Myanmar was originally represented at the ICJ by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, but she was ousted as civilian leader in a coup last year and is now in custody.
Myanmar had argued on various grounds that the court lacked jurisdiction in the case and should dismiss the case while it is still in the preparatory phase.
But the judges unanimously rejected Myanmar’s argument that The Gambia acted in the case as a “power of attorney” of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Only states, not organizations, are allowed to bring cases before the ICJ, which has been ruling on disputes between countries since just after the Second World War.
‘Brutal and cruelty’
They also unanimously rejected Myanmar’s claims that the Gambia could not file the case because it was not a direct party to the alleged genocide, and that Myanmar had opted out of a relevant part of the genocide treaty.
In the end, they rejected Myanmar’s claim 15-1 that there was no formal dispute at the time the Gambia filed the case, and therefore the court had no jurisdiction.
However, it could take years for full hearings and a final ruling in the case.
“Action will be taken against the military and their brutality and brutality. And this gives us hope for our suffering,” a Rohingya living in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state who asked for anonymity told AFP.
A Rohingya woman living in a refugee camp near Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine State, added: “This is good not only for us (Rohingya) but also for the rest of the Myanmar population suffering from at the hands of the Myanmar military.”
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared in March that the Myanmar military’s violence against the Rohingya amounted to genocide.
The International Criminal Court, a war crimes tribunal based in The Hague, has also launched an investigation into the violence against the Rohingya