Will Myanmar respect ICJ order to protect Rohingya from genocide?

Experts celebrate landmark ruling, but have little hope that gov't which denies genocide will prevent further violence.

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    Will Myanmar respect ICJ order to protect Rohingya from genocide?
    Women and children fleeing violence in their villages arrive at the Yathae Taung township in Rakhine State in Myanmar on August 26, 2017 [Wai Moe/AFP/Getty Images]

    In a ruling that the Rohingya minority have celebrated, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect the mostly Muslim minority.

    On Thursday, a panel of 17 judges unanimously decided that Myanmar should take "all measures within its power" to prevent genocide, following a case filed by The Gambia in November.

    Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said Myanmar has "caused irreparable damage to the rights of the Rohingya", referring to a military campaign of violence in Rakhine state that saw more than 740,000 members of the ethnic minority flee to neighbouring Bangladesh in 2016 and 2017.

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    While academics and Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh welcomed the judgement, others have urged caution - now, they say, there must be increased international scrutiny on Myanmar's treatment of the minority.

    Following the ruling, the government of Myanmar issued a press release claiming "there has been no genocide in Rakhine."

    Tun Khin, a leading Rohingya activist based in the UK, told Al Jazeera that Myanmar has engaged in "denial after denial". 

    He called the ruling a "big victory for the Rohingya" but warned that a lack of political will from the Myanmar government will stand in the way of the order being implemented.

    "The Rohingya have been persecuted for five decades. The Myanmar government hates the Rohingya and dehumanises the Rohingya," he said.

    Tun Khin Myanmar

    Rohingya activist Tun Khin with Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, The Gambia's Minister of Justice, inside the International Court of Justice in The Hague on January 23, 2020 [Courtesy of Tun Khin]

    The international community now has no choice but to load political pressure on Myanmar following the ICJ decision, Khin said, urging countries to follow the examples of Canada and the Netherlands in showing solidarity with The Gambia in its support for the Rohingya.

    In her statement before the ICJ in December, Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi downplayed the military's role by describing violence as an "internal armed conflict triggered by Rohingya militant attacks."

    She said the Rohingya "exaggerated" the abuses against them.

    Several world leaders, rights groups, international observers and Rohingya survivors claim otherwise; that Myanmar has carried out systematic, violent and sometimes sexual and deadly abuse against thousands of Rohingya, including children, while denying members of the ethnic minority citizenship rights.

    In the days before Thursday's ICJ order, a Myanmar-appointed commission repeated the government's line, that while the military may have committed "war crimes and serious human rights abuses", there was "no evidence" of genocidal intent. 

    Khin Omar, founder of Progressive Voice, a local research and human rights advocacy organisation, told Al Jazeera she expects Myanmar to now do some "window dressing" in light of the decision.

    "The Myanmar governments and the military will take the order lightly and will only make cosmetic adjustments or measures domestically," she said. "It will, for example, hold trials in military courts to use some who hold lower ranks as scapegoats".

    She expects "increased government targeting" of civil society groups, particularly organisations that document human rights abuses, and said there would be an "ongoing" genocide of the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar.

    Provisional measure orders by the ICJ are binding, but the court has no means of enforcement.

    Cases of non-compliance can, however, be referred to the UN Security Council. 

    Nay San Lwin, co-founder of the Free Rohingya Coalition, said: "Myanmar has to know that if it does not follow the order there will be consequences. They must know that the world will react if they do not comply."

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    SOURCE: Al Jazeera News