The United Nations Supreme Court ruled on Friday that a landmark case against the Rohingya Muslim minority accusing military-ruled Myanmar of genocide could go ahead.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague has dismissed all of Myanmar’s objections to a case brought by the West African nation of Gambia in 2019.
The decision paves the way for a full hearing into allegations of a bloody 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya by Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
ICJ President Joan Donoghue said: “The tribunal has concluded that it has jurisdiction…to consider the petition filed by the Republic of The Gambia, and that the petition is admissible.”
Hundreds of thousands of members of the Rohingya minority fled the Southeast Asian country in operations five years ago, with tragic reports of murder, rape and arson.
About 850,000 Rohingya live in camps in neighboring Bangladesh, while another 600,000 Rohingya live in Myanmar’s southwestern Rakhine state.
Gambia’s Justice Minister Dawda Jalo told reporters outside the court that he was “very happy that the court has followed through”.
Several dozen Rohingya activists protested outside the court as the verdict was read.
– ‘Great moment for justice’ –
Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, referred to the country by its former name, saying: “This decision is a great moment for justice for the Rohingya and all Burmese people.
“We are thrilled that this historic genocide trial can finally begin.”
Myanmar’s representative, Attorney General Thida O, said her country was now “looking forward to finding the best way to protect our people and our country”.
The predominantly Muslim Gambia filed a lawsuit in November 2019 alleging that Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya violated the 1948 UN Genocide Convention. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureate who represented Myanmar at the ICJ in the past, is currently being held in captivity after being overthrown as the country’s civilian leader in a coup last year.
Myanmar argued on several grounds that the tribunal lacked jurisdiction in the matter and that the case should be dismissed while still in its early stages.
But the judges unanimously rejected Myanmar’s argument that The Gambia was acting as an “agent” of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation of 57 countries in the case.
Only states, not organizations, are allowed to bring cases to the ICJ, which has adjudicated disputes between countries since World War II.
– ‘Cruelty and cruelty’ –
They also unanimously rejected Myanmar’s assertion that The Gambia could not bring a case because it was not a direct party to the alleged genocide and that Myanmar had withdrawn from a relevant part of the genocide convention.
Ultimately, they rejected 15-1 Myanmar’s claim that The Gambia had no formal dispute at the time of filing the case and therefore the court lacked jurisdiction.
However, it can take years for a full hearing and final verdict in the case.
On condition of anonymity, a Rohingya resident of Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state told AFP: “Measures will be taken against the army, its brutality and cruelty and it offers us hope for our suffering.”
A Rohingya woman living in an IDP camp near Sitwe, the capital of Rakhine province, said: “This bodes well not only for us (Rohingya) but also for the rest of Myanmar which is suffering at the hands of the Burma Army”.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken declared in March that Myanmar’s military violence against the Rohingya was genocide.
The International Criminal Court, the war crimes tribunal based in The Hague, has also opened an investigation into the violence against the Rohingya.
Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. – https://www.icj-cij.org/public/files/case-related/178/178-20220722-PRE-01-00-EN.pdf