Will ICJ ruling open the door to Rohingyas' return to Myanmar?

By holding the military accountable for its atrocities against the Rohingya, the ICJ might create the incentive for further international action to ensure justice for all victims of Myanmar’s security forces, writes Dr Arpita Hazarika for South Asia Monitor

Dr Arpita Hazarika Jul 29, 2022
Will ICJ ruling open the door to Rohingyas' return to Myanmar? (Photo: Twitter)

According to academics and rights campaigners, the International Court of Justice's (ICJ) ruling has thrown up fresh opportunities for the international community to put pressure on the Myanmar military to provide justice for the Rohingyas.

The ICJ ruled on July 22 that Gambia's case for genocide against Myanmar will proceed despite the latter's preliminary objections. According to media reports, Myanmar must now submit its counterargument by April 2023. The ICJ will then likely issue its ruling by 2024.

The Myanmar military has a long record of committing serious human rights crimes. A year after the military took over from the elected civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, the US ruled that the Myanmar Army did commit genocide against the Rohingya community.

The National Unity Government (NUG), a parallel administration run in exile by Suu Kyi party MPs, vowed to assist the ICJ case and to give the tribunal the required information about the genocide.

Genocide against Rohingyas 

For decades, genocidal atrocities have been committed against the Rohingya people in Myanmar, forcing hundreds of thousands of them to flee to Bangladesh from Rakhine State where they are denied citizenship and basic rights.

The largest flood which brought roughly 750,000 Rohingya refugees in 2017 encouraged Gambia to appeal to the highest UN court in The Hague in November 2019 with help from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

The ICJ granted Gambia's request and imposed provisional measures requiring Myanmar to stop all genocide against the Rohingya and to make sure that its security forces don't carry out genocide.

Gambia's standing in the case and the court's authority were both contested in preliminary objections filed by Myanmar in January last year. Myanmar claimed that because the Gambia was not directly affected, the country lacked jurisdiction to file the complaint. Additionally, it contended that the OIC lacked jurisdiction and was in fact the driving force behind the case. The ICJ dismissed each and every defense.

Myanmar must act 

The ICJ has backed the Rohingya cause from the start. Additionally, it referred to them as Rohingyas, an ethnic identifier. Therefore, the latest decision is significant for the cause of Rohingya justice and their ability to return home. Under pressure from the ICJ, Myanmar will finally take the repatriation of the Rohingya seriously.

Bangladesh will be able to bargain better with Myanmar as a result. However, Bangladesh must exercise caution so that Myanmar does not treat it as a token repatriation. It's important to deal with the issue's underlying causes.

In order to make the repatriation process more successful, Bangladesh must also involve China, Japan and India.

Only the Netherlands and Canada officially joined Gambia for holding Myanmar accountable in 2020. The US promised to contribute financially to the case. It is time for Bangladesh to begin talking to the US and other like-minded countries so that they make financial contributions.  

Myanmar has not yet put the temporary restrictions the ICJ set into effect. Clashes between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military frequently take place in Rakhine State. The Rohingya community increasingly suffers as a result.

Army vs ICJ 

While more than 130,000 Rohingyas continue to live in camps in Rakhine, the UN and other aid organizations are unable to access these communities freely, which suggests that the Myanmar Army continues to disregard the ICJ's provisional measures.

By holding the military accountable for its atrocities against the Rohingya, the ICJ might create the incentive for further international action to ensure justice for all victims of the Myanmar security forces.

Concerned governments should formally intervene in the ICJ case if they seek accountability in Myanmar. The case presents an important chance to examine the harsh policies and practices of the Myanmar military. Now it is high time to mount global pressure on Myanmar to stop atrocities against its people and start the Rohingya repatriation from Bangladesh.

The court decision opens the door for a full hearing of the matter, which we hope will result in swift justice. Both the trial and a resolution of the Rohingya situation should be prioritized and given the attention they deserve.

It has been a number of years since the Myanmar military engaged in what has been referred "ethnic cleansing" with genocidal intent, a type of crime not been seen in the world recently.  

Since they were mercilessly killed, raped and driven out of their ancestral homes in Myanmar, the Rohingya people have had to endure a string of tragic events. As they wait in 50 camps in Bangladesh to return home and start a new life, the trauma still plagues them. However, while their fate is being decided, safety, dignity and integration are crucial. Caution should be taken so that they do not jump from the frying pan into the fire. A lasting solution to the problem will depend on global justice and accountability.

 (The author is a Gauhati University, India, based researcher. Views are personal. She can be contacted at drhazarikaarpita81@gmail.com)

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