Rohingya refugees demonstrate at Cox Bazar in Bangladesh. (Photo: Getty Images)
On January 23, Thursday, a full bench of 17 judges of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in Hague unanimously asked the government in Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide. The court has asked the government to report back in four months the progress made in implementing the ruling.
The ICJ verdict is binding. However, there are no means to ensure that the concerned state cooperates and implements the ruling, short of an intervention by the United Nation Security Council.
Last month, Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Councillor of Myanmar (equal to the post of Prime Minister) had refused the genocide charges in a hearing before the court. However, she had admitted that the Myanmar military may have used excessive force against the Rohingyas during the “armed conflict”. The case in the ICJ was filed by the African nation of The Gambia.
Rohingyas are a minority Muslim community in Buddhist-dominant Myanmar. They have been denied formal citizenship in the country and are considered illegal immigrants by the state.
The Myanmar army has been accused of backing the violent mobs that unleashed large-scale violence against the Rohingya population in August 2017. In the violence, even the homes of the fleeing Rohingyas were burned down. The state sponsored violence led to thousands of deaths and forced nearly 800,000 people to flee the country and take shelter in different countries in the neighborhood.
Bangladesh has given shelter to the majority of these refugees. Most of the Rohingya in Bangladesh live in camps under dire conditions without basic facilities. Some countries such as India have refused to provide them shelter.
Meanwhile, the Myanmar government has rejected the ICJ verdict on the basis of a report filled by an internal “Independent Commission of Inquiry” which was published on January 20, 2020. According to the report, there was no genocide committed in the country’s Rakhine province. It, however, admits that acts of violence amounting to war crimes were committed.
The government in Myanmar has argued that the national criminal justice system is already hearing the cases of excessive violence. However, so far no one has been implicated in those cases.