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Rohingya genocide case against Myanmar at ICJ: What happens next?

  • Published at 11:32 pm December 14th, 2019
Suu Kyi
Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi attends a hearing on the second day of hearings in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019 Reuters

The Gambia argued that there is compelling evidence that genocide in Rakhine has occurred, is occurring, and is likely to take place in the future, while Myanmar denied such accusations although it acknowledged use of disproportionate force in some instances during the military operations

The three day long public hearings on provisional measures in the Rohingya genocide case filed by The Gambia against Myanmar with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) came to a conclusion on Thursday.

Now it is time for the ICJ, The Hague based principal judicial organ of the United Nations, to give a decision after hearing nine hours of deliberations by The Gambia and Myanmar.  

The Gambia argued that there is compelling evidence that genocide in Rakhine has occurred, is occurring, and is likely to take place in the future, while Myanmar denied such accusations although it acknowledged use of disproportionate force in some instances during the military operations.

West African nation The Gambia, filed a case with the ICJ against Myanmar on November 11, alleging violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in connection with the Rohingya, often described as one of the worst persecuted communities in the world.

Filing the case, attorney general and justice minister of The Gambia, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, also asked the ICJ to impose provisional measures as a matter of extreme urgency, to protect the Rohingya against further harm by ordering Myanmar to stop all of its genocidal conduct immediately.

Tambadou led The Gambia in the hearings while the Myanmar side was headed by state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, the de facto head of the government, in the capacity of the foreign minister.

“The Court’s decision on the request for the indication of provisional measures will be delivered at a public sitting, the date of which will be announced in due course,” said a press release posted on the ICJ website immediately after the conclusion of the hearings on Thursday.

In its application, The Gambia asked for six provisional measures to be ordered by the court, including a halt to acts with genocidal intent by Myanmar and crucially, granting of access to, and cooperation with, all UN fact-finding bodies that are engaged in investigating alleged genocidal acts against the Rohingya.

Myanmar continues to deny access to all international stakeholders, including the UN special rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar.  

Myanmar has asked the court to remove the case from its list or alternatively to reject the request for the indication of provisional measures.

On the time the ICJ may take to come to a decision, former and serving senior diplomats said that is difficult to predict, but it is expected that the top UN court would not take more than several weeks to issue its order that is binding on member states.

In the case of Bosnia Herzegovina versus Serbia in 1993, the ICJ took a few weeks to order provisional measures.

While issuing the ruling, the judges may also allow some of the six provisional measures requested by The Gambia. And, in a worst case scenario for The Gambia, the court may also reject the provisional measures and take the case off the list.

If the ruling of the ICJ comes with the acceptance of some or all provisional measures, the proceedings of the main case may start within a month or two after the issuance of the order following the collection of relevant data and information.

The Gambia as well as those who are supporting the efforts to get justice for the Rohingya are expecting order on at least two provisional measures that will be ground breaking – a halt to the actions with genocidal intent and ensuring access to Rakhine for all UN fact finding organisations.

These two measures will provide relief to 600,000 Rohingya people still living in Rakhine in a dire state and pave the way for the UN systems to find out what actually happened in the affected areas during the brutal campaign of the Myanmar security forces and their civilian accomplices against the persecuted community.