From December 10th to 12th 2019, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) will hear for the first time about the claim of Genocide committed by Burma against the Rohingya in 2017. This is a historic and landmark case presented by The Gambia and supported by the 57 member states of the OIC. De facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi will be present at the hearing in The Hague to present the defence of her Burma administration and military.

ICJ or ICC case?

The ICJ comes after much work has been done by the International Criminal Court who have themselves have worked hard in order for prosecutors to access Rohingya who escaped violence in Burma. For the ICC, the case is a little different to the ICJ. The ICC are investigating forcible displacement from Burma of the Rohingya into Bangladesh territory. Initially, this was dismissed by Burma, but it is clear that they are taking the case seriously from the ICC after they issued a press release which was more similar to a legal briefing in response to the ICC prosecutors. Many unknown Burmese NGO’s also started releasing press releases in support of the Burmese administration around this time, refuting the ICC prosecutors and claiming that there was no such ethnic cleansing, crimes against humanity or genocide in Burma at the time. If prosecutors from the ICC do find evidence of forcible displacement, the penalties will be heavy for Burma.

The 1 million plus Rohingya who escaped Burmese violence and sought refuge in Bangladesh are proof to the notion that Burma was responsible for the forcible displacement. Although the ICC case will most likely take years to conclude, it will almost certainly find the senior military generals guilty of the charge with arrest warrants likely to be issued. This is the first time in history that both the ICC and ICJ are investigating a state simultaneously and it is as a result of much hard work from lawyers, prosecutors, academics and activists who have been campaigning for this for some time.

The ICJ Case in more detail

The International Court of Justice came as a result of the first treaty to be adopted by the UN, the Genocide Convention on 9th December 1946. On November 11 2019, The Gambia became the first non-party actor to have referred another state to the ICJ – this is even more poignant considering that The Gambia has no ties economically, culturally, politically with Burma or to the Rohingya. The developments at the ICJ have also been unusual and away from the normal precedence of such a court.

Whilst the ICJ can not be described as a human rights court, it moved with remarkable speed in getting an urgent hearing scheduled within a month of The Gambia’s submission and the court will hear from both sides on the issue of genocide committed in August 2017 but also the risk of recurring genocide now. It is also very significant that Aung San Suu Kyi will be present on front of the ICJ prosecution to defend Burma’s position. This is a clear indication of how much Burma is worried and afraid of this potentially landscape changing case. An incredible amount of work is being put into this case to ensure that a ruling can be made with as much speed as possible, but even then, it is thought that a final verdict can be reached at the earliest in an 18-36 month period.

The Rohingya: Burma and Bangladesh

Whilst both of these high profile cases continue, life for Rohingya in Bangladesh and in Burma continues. In Bangladesh, a general aura of instability has lately come into play. Firstly, the decision by the Government of Bangladesh to severely restrict mobile communications access from the camps has caused widescale concern and panic in the refugee communities. Unable to contact each other and family, education and rehabilitation projects which relied on connectivity have been seriously hampered. There has also been growing discord from Bangladeshi civil society towards the Rohingya with many videos circulating online putting domestic politics and unrest down to Rohingya presence in Bangladesh. There have even been calls from within the Government to erect barbed wire fences around the camps to act almost as an open air prison for the Rohingya.

Meanwhile in Burma, intense fighting has been taking place for a number of months between the Burmese military and members of the Arakan Army. The Arakan Army or AA, are made up of Rakhine soldiers in the region. For decades there has been large discord between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities living in Arakan and was fuelled by the Burmese administration supporting the Rakhine to subjugate the Rohingya. However, since fighting has emerged between the AA and the Burmese military, there has been some hope of reconciliation between both of the native ethnic communities. That said, the conditions for the Rohingya in Burma remain extremely treacherous with survival and food scarcity proving to be particularly difficult.

Next Steps…

  • You can follow the hearing at the ICJ at our @restlessbeings social media handles for the latest information.

  • You can also join in on our Boycott Myanmar Campaign that was launched alongside Rohingya activists from around the globe on December 9th. Our first action is to call on the Nobel Peace Prize Committee to rescind their award to Aung San Suu Kyi. You can sign the petition and follow the work of Boycott Myanmar here.

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