Myanmar's State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi waves to supporters on arriving back in Myanmar on Dec. 14 after defending her country's military against genocide charges at the International Court of Justice. (Photo: Thet Aung/AFP)
The United Nations’ highest court today ordered measures to prevent the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar.
The decision comes despite de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi defending her country against the accusations in person last month.
In a momentous and unanimous decision by a panel of 17 judges, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague ordered Myanmar to carry out emergency provisional measures and to respect the requirements of the 1948 Genocide Convention.
The court found there was prima facie evidence of breaches of the convention and ruled that the estimated 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar are “extremely vulnerable” to violence at the hands of the military.
The judgment amounts to a rejection of Suu Kyi’s defense of her country against accusations of systematic human rights abuses and war crimes during a three-day hearing at the ICJ last month.
The case was brought by the Gambia, a Muslim-majority African state that accused Myanmar of breaching the Genocide Convention.
Today’s ruling dealt only with the Gambia’s request for preliminary measures, the equivalent of a restraining order for states. It gave no indication of the court’s final decision, which could take years to reach.
The ICJ said Myanmar must now take all steps within its power to prevent serious harm to Rohingya and report back within four months.
Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Marie Tambadou told the court in December: “Another genocide is unfolding right before our eyes, yet we do nothing to stop it. This is a stain on our collective conscience. It’s not only the state of Myanmar that is on trial here, it’s our collective humanity that is being put on trial.”
In her appearance before the court, Suu Kyi described the violence as an "internal armed conflict" triggered by Rohingya militant attacks on government security posts.
The complaint is one of the first attempts to use the international justice system to help the estimated 730,000 Rohingya refugees who fled Myanmar following military clearance operations in Rakhine state in 2017.
Six of Myanmar’s most senior army officers have been accused of genocide by a UN fact-finding mission and recommended for criminal prosecution.
Once an international icon representing peaceful defiance of military dictatorship, 74-year-old Suu Kyi has been savagely criticized for defending her country’s army over the Rohingya exodus.
She appealed to ICJ judges to dismiss allegations that Myanmar committed genocide and instead allow the country’s court martial system to deal with any human rights abuses.