THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) — The U.N.’s highest court ordered Myanmar on Thursday to take immediate measures to protect Rohingya Muslims from acts of genocide.
Thousands have died and nearly a million Rohingya have been displaced into neighboring Bangladesh since the Buddhist-majority government began a crackdown on the minority group in 2017.
The International Court of Justice held a three-day hearing on issue last month at the request of The Gambia, a nation in west African nation that accused Myanmar of breaching the 1948 Genocide Convention by murdering and displacing thousands of Rohingya.
In its November 2019 application to the U.N. court, The Gambia asked the court to grant six provisional measures, essentially an injunction, to stem what it called Myanmar’s genocidal intent.
Two months earlier, the United Nations released a report detailing the numerous human rights abuses it observed in a fact-finding mission in Myanmar. Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner and once world-renowned democracy activist, represented her country in last year’s hearings.
The Gambia’s application raised a lot of eyebrows, as the two countries have little historical contact and are on separate continents. The Gambia is also a predominately Muslim country, however, and their minister of justice Abubacarr Tambadou, who represented The Gambia at the ICJ, was involved in the trial for the prosecution of genocide after the Rwandan War.
“This is incredible news from the court,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, an international human rights organization. “It reaffirms that the prevention of genocide is the obligation of the entire international community.”
Aside from stopping acts of violence and protecting evidence of any crimes, the 17-judge panel at the ICJ also ordered Myanmar to submit a report in four months of all the measures it has taken and to submit a follow-up report every six months until the completion of the trial.
Trials at the ICJ can take years. A previous trial by the court on the genocide that occurred during the Bosnian War took 13 years to reach its conclusion.
“Having the judges unanimously agree to the protection of Rohingya means so much to us because we’re now allowed to exist. And it’s legally binding,” said Yasmin Ullah, president of Rohingya Human Rights Network, who herself had to flee the violence in the country. Myanmar declined to comment after the hearing.
The ICJ itself has no enforcement power, though it can request assistance from the UN Security Council. The U.N. approved a resolution condemning human rights abuses in Myanmar in December last year.