Myanmar Cannot Be Trusted on Rohingya Rights, ICJ Told

By Reuters 12 December 2019

THE HAGUE – Myanmar cannot be trusted to hold its soldiers accountable for alleged atrocities against its Rohingya community, and measures to stop the violence need to be taken immediately, a lawyer presenting the genocide case against Myanmar said Thursday.

Speaking on the third and final day of hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the case brought by The Gambia under the 1948 Genocide Convention, the West African country’s lead lawyer repeated its demand for “provisional measures” to restrain the Myanmar military until the case is heard in full.

Paul Reichler said Myanmar had not even tried during the hearings to deny most of the accusations of extreme violence made against its military, nor of the mass deportation of Rohingya following a 2017 crackdown.

Statements from Myanmar that it was taking action to prosecute soldiers accused of wrongdoing were incredible, he said.

“How can anyone possibly expect the Tatmadaw [military] to hold itself accountable for genocidal acts against the Rohingya, when six of its top generals including the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, have all been accused of genocide by the UN fact-finding mission and recommended for criminal prosecution,” he told the panel of 17 judges.

He was referring to the findings of UN investigators who in an August 2018 report said Myanmar’s military had carried out killings and mass rapes with “genocidal intent” in the 2017 operation. The Gambia’s legal team had outlined graphic testimony from their report at the first day of hearings on Tuesday.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh after the military launched its crackdown. The UN investigators have said 10,000 people may have been killed.

Myanmar’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi led her country’s defense on Wednesday, telling the court the military-led “clearance operation” in western Rakhine State was a counterterrorism response to coordinated Rohingya militant attacks against dozens of police outposts in August 2017.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said that Myanmar “actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers that are accused of wrongdoing” and argued the tribunal should not have jurisdiction.

She said that even if there had been violations of humanitarian law during what she described as an internal conflict, they did not rise to the level of genocide and were not covered by the 1948 convention.

Myo Nyunt, spokesman for her National League for Democracy, said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had been “very detailed and [precise] about the complicated Rakhine issue”.

Rival protesters in The Hague shouted, “Mother Suu, be healthy” and “Aung San Suu Kyi, shame on you” as the Myanmar delegation left the premises.

Her team will have several hours to formulate a rebuttal and final statement. The court has not set a date for a decision on provisional measures but one could come in January.

Its decisions are binding and not subject to appeal, although it has no means of enforcement and countries have occasionally ignored them or failed to fully adhere.

After the decision on provisional measures, the process may continue to a full case that could last years.
Rohingya in camps in Cox’s Bazar were praying that the suit succeeds. “Aung San Suu Kyi is a big liar…We hate her,” said Hasmat Ali, 41, who fled to Bangladesh after the August 2017 crackdown.

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