Thursday, May 30, 2024


Dhaka Tribune

The limits of international justice

When it comes to ensuring justice, the international community’s bias is clear and present

Update : 11 Apr 2023, 09:31 AM

Josep Borell, the European Union's High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy, in a speech on October 13, 2022 at the European Diplomatic Academy in Bruges, said: “Europe is a garden. We have built a garden … the rest of the world … is not exactly a garden. Most of the rest of the world is a jungle.”

Perhaps this explains why the humanitarian problems of the rest of the world have not received proper attention. The 2022 “Stand Up for Ukraine” global pledging campaign raised $8.9 billion, the UN spokesperson Stephane Dujarric stated, “this is among the fastest and most generous responses a humanitarian flash appeal has ever received.” But an “aid void” is increasing for Myanmar, Yemen, the Sahel, Ethiopia, Gaza, and Afghanistan. 

The Rohingya genocide, recognized as the fastest and largest refugee influx since the 1994 Rwandan genocide, has also been sidelined over the years. In 2017 the military of Myanmar launched a merciless onslaught against the Rohingya communities dispersed throughout the western region of the country's Rakhine State. The head of the UN agency for human rights later referred to the military's conduct as "acts of horrific barbarity," potential "acts of genocide," and "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing." More than 10,000 Rohingya were killed and around a million were forced to flee into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Under the direction of Gen Min Aung Hlaing, junta security forces have committed crimes against humanity with regards to protesters, journalists, lawyers, medical personnel, and members of the political opposition by engaging in mass executions, torture, sexual assault, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses.

The nature of the security force crackdown -- methodical, widespread, and systematic -- reflects the junta's country-wide policy of suppressing the opposition. But still, world leaders' responses remain paper-based only, quite opposite to what has been done for Ukraine for example.

Along with Rohingya genocide, National Unity Government (NUG) -- a Myanmar government in exile -- claims that the regime has committed 64 massacres across five states and regions, killing at least 766 people since the 2021 coup. The NUG listed nine massacres in 2021, 44 in 2022 and 11 this year. The massacres mostly took place in anti-regime strongholds like Sagaing and Magwe regions and Kayah State. 

On November 11, 2019 the West African country Gambia -- far from being a Western “civilized” society --  initiated a case against Myanmar at the ICJ accusing the military of perpetrating genocide against the Rohingya people in Rakhine State. Later on, in 2022, the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar (IIMM) found evidence of crimes against humanity committed by the Myanmar military.  The Commission for International Justice and Accountability, CIJA revealed their collected documents proving systematic purge of Rohingya.

But still responses remain on sanction or any attempts at resolving the crisis. 

The UN special rapporteur and rights groups have condemned the international community for its failure to take effective action over the past two years, which has emboldened the Myanmar military junta to double down on its brutal tactics against the population. Speaking at the United Nations General Assembly on March 16, the UN Special Envoy to Myanmar Noeleen Heyzer said the impact of the military rule in its third year has been “devastating.” Clear evidence for this lack of action can be seen in the junta's recent massacres, indiscriminate aerial bombardments and artillery strikes, mass arson attacks, and fresh horrors in the forms of beheadings and dismemberment of detained resistance members and civilians.

But the call to stop such acts of barbarity are being all but ignored.

After Russia's expanded invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, the ICC prosecutor announced an ICC investigation into alleged crimes in Ukraine in March, a month after the attack. The ICC prosecutor was also quick to issue a clear warning against committing crimes in Ukraine. No similarly strong ICC public statements have been forthcoming concerning Myanmar. Nor has there been the same level of public support for prosecutions from other states.

This is a concern, particularly since there is a view that prosecutions, arrest warrants, and statements from the ICC prosecutor could have a deterring and preventive impact, especially during an active conflict.

On the contrary, a report by The Irrawaddy says, between February 24 and 25, high ranking soldiers and intelligence officers from Myanmar's Military Operations Command in Buthidaung, Rakhine State met with several Rohingya residents and warned the villagers to admit that “they set fire in their own houses and fled away during 2017 incident.”

If they testify that the villagers were killed and the houses were burned down by the military, they will be arrested and/or executed. This comes as an intention of the Myanmar military to shed accountability for its role in atrocities against Rohingya people.

At one point world leaders need to stop for a moment and ask themselves: Just how much more blood in Myanmar would it take to shake them out of their inaction?

Nur-Mohammad Sheikh is a security affairs analyst.

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