(Bloomberg) -- The International Court of Justice has ordered the implementation of emergency measures to protect Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya population from genocide, ruling on a request by The Gambia on Thursday.
The Muslim-majority African country has accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention using so-called “clearance operations” that began in earnest in 2017, resulting in the deaths and rapes of thousands of Rohingya living in western Rakhine State. As many as 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee for their lives across the border to Bangladesh.
The president of the United Nation’s highest tribunal, Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, ordered Myanmar “to take all measures within its powers” to prevent the killings and attacks on its Rohingya minority, adding the group remains “extremely vulnerable.” He instructed the government to ensure the preservation of evidence and that its military, other armed units or government officials do not commit acts of violence against the ethnic group.
Myanmar is legally bound to report to the court in four months on what measures it had taken to comply with the order and later send reports every six months until a final verdict in the case is reached.
The rulings of the International Court of Justice are final and cannot be appealed but it has no powers of enforcement. However a UN member nation can seek action from the Security Council based on the court’s rulings.
Failure to comply may affect Myanmar’s international standing or prompt reactions in bilateral or multilateral forums, Grant Shubin, deputy legal director of the New York-based Global Justice Center said in an email. ”While there are still several stages of the case that must happen before the court finally decides if Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention, the broader international community should do everything in their power to ensure Myanmar complies with an order,” Shubin added.
Hours before the court released its ruling Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged war crimes “may have been committed” -- including by members of the country’s military -- during the crackdown.
“It is never easy for armed forces to recognize self-interest in accountability for their members, and then follow through with actual investigations and prosecutions,” she wrote in the Financial Times Thursday in a break from her government’s consistent denial of the testimony of Rohingya victims. She also said Myanmar had been subjected to “unsubstantiated narratives” from the UN and human rights groups.
Last month, Suu Kyi led a delegation to the Hague in which she requested the court reject The Gambia’s request for provisional measures to protect the Rohingya community. While Suu Kyi said there may have been some human rights violations and deviations from the international norms of justice and the rule of law, “such kinds of violations cannot be considered as genocide.” She said The Gambia had presented an “incomplete and misleading” case.
On Monday, a government-appointed Independent Commission of Enquiry announced it had found war crimes, serious violations of human rights and domestic law had taken place during security operations between Aug. 25 and Sept. 5, 2017. However it said there was “no indication of a pattern of conduct from which one could reasonably conclude that the acts were committed with ‘genocidal intent’.”
Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs on Thursday repeated its position that no genocide had taken place in the Rakhine state.
“The unsubstantiated condemnation of Myanmar by some human rights actors has presented a distorted picture of the situation in Rakhine and affected Myanmar’s bilateral relations with several countries,” the ministry said in a statement and added that “this has hampered Myanmar’s ability to lay the foundation for sustainable development in Rakhine.”
The UN special rapporteur to Myanmar in a statement on Thursday following a visit to Bangladesh said that she found it hard to be optimistic about the situation of the Rohingya. “But I still hold out hope that the promised democratic transition will proceed, as it is not too late for the government to change the course it is currently set to,” Yanghee Lee, said. “The Myanmar government must face up to its responsibilities, obligations and duties.”
(Updates with new details in the 11-13th paragraphs.)
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