Real justice for Myanmar's Rohingya will require more than an ICJ ruling

Real justice for Myanmar's Rohingya will require more than an ICJ ruling
Comment: The ICJ ruling to protect Rohingya Muslims is a positive step, but by no means will guarantee their safety, writes Tasnim Nazeer.
5 min read
29 Jan, 2020
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in recent years [Getty]

Rohingya Muslims, described by the UN as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world, have finally seen a beacon of light in the fight for justice driven forward by Gambia. 

The historic decision by the UN's International Court of Justice (ICJ) ruled that Myanmar is now legally bound to protect Rohingya Muslims from genocide, and stipulated four provisional measures they must take in doing so.

This unprecedented ruling means that Myanmar's government must prevent any Rohingya Muslim in the country from being killed and reserve any evidence of a genocide that has already happened. In spite of this ground-breaking turning point in the path to justice, concerns still exist in the steps to seeking accountability to bring the perpetrators of the crimes against Rohingya to account.

The Myanmar military crackdown in 2017 saw thousands of Rohingya Muslims killed, and 700,000 flee to neighbouring Bangladesh. Rohingya communities continue to be subjected to indiscriminate killing and gang rape. Pregnant women, babies, children and the elderly have not been spared. With so many accounts and evidence of human rights violations, it is shocking that Myanmar continues to evade accountability.

When confronted at the Hague in December with such allegations, Myanmar's de facto head of state Aung San Suu Kyi offered the court a report of her government's own commission, billed as an Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE). In a tired and transparent effort, she tried to reframe what amounts to genocide, as a reaction to violence against the Burmese army. 

But as the UN Human Rights commissioner has noted, Myanmar's persecution of the Rohingya amounts to a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing", yet Myanmar continues, defiant. Myanmar's official statement in response to the ICJ ruling stated that, "The unsubstantiated condemnation of Myanmar by some human rights actors has presented a distorted picture of the situation in Rakhine and affected Myanmar's bilateral relations with several countries."

The ruling by the ICJ must not be taken as the ultimate victory

In it's defense, Myanmar states that "As concluded by the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) in its recent report, there has been no genocide in Rakhine. The Commission found that war crimes had occurred, and those are now being investigated and prosecuted by Myanmar's national criminal justice system." Yet, prospect of Myanmar's national criminal justice system bringing justice for the Rohingya would be almost laughable, were it not so tragic and unlikely. 

A damning 2018 report conducted by the United Nations already had already established genocidal intent on the part of Myanmar officials towards the Rohingya, and explicitly called for investigation and prosecution of Myanmar's top military generals, to the full extent of international law.

Yet Suu Kyi falls back on her own "independent" investigation to cover up what has really taken place in the country.

In an opinion piece last week for the Financial Times, she shamelessly stated that the case against Myanmar before the ICJ had been, "precariously dependent on statements by refugees" in Bangladesh who "may have provided inaccurate or exaggerated information".

Such desensitized statements indicate that Suu Kyi will likely do anything to protect her reputation, which has already been significantly tainted. For this reason, it is even more important that those in power, who have the ability to call for proper accountability, should do so with immediate effect. 

Despite the fact this this ruling is a victory for the Rohingya and for everyone supporting them, we must not lose focus on the long road ahead. The ruling by the ICJ must not be taken as the ultimate victory, instead, we as an international community must monitor the situation in Myanmar, and see what provisions are implemented for Rohingya Muslims. 

Myanmar's head of military, Min Aung Hlaing is just one of many of Myanmar's military members who should be put on trial. Suu Kyi's defence of the military also makes her complicit with justifying the genocide, and she too, must one day be held to account.

While the ICJ is limited in its power to bring specific perpetrators to account, we must push our governments to speak out against injustice where it continues to occur, and ensure that minority groups are protected around the world.

Gambia has shown exemplary leadership in being the first country to bring this case to the ICJ, and its actions should set the precedent for other countries to call for further measures to be taken against the Myanmar military, should they fail to respect this ruling. 

Muslim nations must also do more to ensure that Myanmar abides by the ruling

It remains to be seen whether any of the powerful western nations that decry democracy will stick up for the Rohingya. Muslim nations must also do more to ensure that Myanmar abides by the ruling, protects those Rohingya Muslims who are still in the country, and embarks on a path of justice for survivors. 

Speaking outside the ICJ, Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou remarked on "The fact that the decision they have given today is unanimous, all 17 judges from the different parts of the world, representing different cultures and values have all agreed that genocide cannot be tolerated by anyone in the world and that the Rohingya need protection as a recognised ethnic group in Myanmar."

While the ruling brings some hope for justice, Myanmar must be pressured by the international community to ensure that the perpetrators of war crimes are brought to trial, and face the consequences of their brutal misconduct.

Tasnim Nazeer is an award-winning journalist, author, and Universal Peace Federation Ambassador. She has written for Al Jazeera, The Guardian, The Huffington Post, Middle East Eye, CNN, BBC, and others. She was awarded the FIPP the global network of media Rising Stars in Media Award 2018.

Follow her on twitter: @tasnimnazeer1

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of The New Arab, its editorial board or staff.