The International Court of Justice today will rule on a request by Gambia for emergency measures in Myanmar to protect Rohingya Muslims, to halt violence immediately, and to preserve evidence of past abuses against the ethnic minority.
The small, mostly Muslim West African country launched the lawsuit at the UN’s highest body for disputes between states in November, accusing Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya, in violation of a 1948 convention.
The case has not yet been heard in full and the ruling on Thursday only deals with Gambia’s request for so-called preliminary measures. It does not indicate how the court may rule in a final decision, which could take years to reach.
Gambia has asked for a series of protective measures, the equivalent of a restraining order for states, including an immediate stop to the violence. It has also called on judges to order Myanmar to grant access to UN bodies investigating alleged crimes against Rohingya.
The World Court’s rulings are final and without appeal, but the court has no real way of enforcing them.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-led crackdown in 2017 and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh. UN investigators concluded the military campaign was executed with “genocidal intent”.
On the eve of the ruling, more than 100 Myanmar-based civil society groups published a statement saying they hoped international justice efforts would “bring forth the truth” and end impunity for abuses in the country.
“Political and military policies have always been imposed with violent force and intimidation upon the people of Myanmar, systematically and institutionally, on the basis of their political and religious beliefs and ethnic identities and continue until the present,” the statement said.
“We understand very clearly that the ICJ case against Myanmar is directed towards those responsible for using political power and military might, and not to the people of Myanmar.”
‘PRAYING FOR JUSTICE’
In the camps outside Cox’s Bazar home to more than one million Rohingya, making them the world’s largest refugee settlement, hopes were running high for a ruling in their favour after years of persecution.
“The entire Rohingya community is praying for justice,” said Dil Mohammad, 52, a Rohingya community leader. “We expect that it will deliver a fair judgment.”
During a week of hearings last month, Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi asked the 17-judge panel to drop the case.
While she conceded that disproportionate military force may have been used and civilians killed, she said the acts did not constitute genocide.
Just this week a government-appointed panel established in Myanmar to probe the allegations also said that while there were likely crimes committed by the military there was no indication there was an intent to commit genocide.
Myanmar’s military, known as the Tatmadaw, said it would probe allegations of wrongdoing within its ranks and chain of command, and take action “in conformity with military justice” if credible evidence emerged.
“The Tatmadaw in carrying out its duty to defend the sovereignty of the state and protect the life and property of the local people from terrorist attacks launched by ARSA and its collaborators did so spontaneously,” it said in a statement on Thursday. “The action was not premeditated.”
A spokesman told reporters at a news conference in the capital, Naypyitaw, that the military would follow the orders of the government if the court ruled against Myanmar.
Although the Myanmar case in The Hague is only at an early stage, human rights lawyer Akila Radhakrishnan said it has already had an impact.
“Since the case was filed we’ve seen the government take some action to ensure accountability, like issuing a court martial. Now the military justice system is deeply flawed but its something that wasn’t there before,” she said.