Myanmar Submits First Report to World Court on Provisional Measures to Protect Rohingya

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 26 May 2020

YANGON—Myanmar submitted its first report on the steps it is taking to protect Rohingya from killings and other atrocities to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Friday as required by the court’s January order on provisional measures.

The ICJ, also known as the World Court, issued four urgent measures against Myanmar early this year requiring it to comply with the UN Genocide Convention and to report on its implementation of the measures, after Gambia filed a case at the court accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya. As the case could take years, the African nation requested that the court order the preliminary measures.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh in late 2017 after the government’s security forces launched clearance operations in northern Rakhine State in response to a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on police outposts.

UN investigators said the operations had “genocidal intent”. Both the Myanmar government and military have denied the accusations.

Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the court in December that there was no genocide committed in Myanmar, as defined in international law, and described the Rohingya issue as an “internal conflict”. She added that the country was engaged in the repatriation of Rohingya and promotion of ethnic reconciliation, peace and stability in Rakhine State, and was holding its military accountable for alleged human rights abuses.

In January, the United Nations’ highest court ruled that Myanmar must follow the provisional measures to protect Rohingya Muslims from killings and other atrocities while refraining from destroying evidence related to allegations of crimes against them.

Going further than the measures requested by Gambia, the ICJ ordered Myanmar on Jan. 23 to report on its compliance with the provisional measures in four months—the deadline was Saturday—and then every six months thereafter.

The World Court’s Information Department confirmed to The Irrawaddy on Monday that Myanmar submitted the first report indicated in the court’s Jan. 23 order on provisional measures on Friday.

Locally, the Myanmar government has not made any official announcement about the submission of the report, or the contents of the report itself.

The department said such reports are generally kept confidential.

“However, the Court still has the power to decide whether, in the present case, the Myanmar report should be made public,” it added.

The Myanmar military, which is in charge of all security forces, including those accused of committing atrocities against the Rohingya, told the media on Friday it had provided the government with everything needed to compile the report, as the military is investigating and preparing to open court-martial proceedings against soldiers accused of mass killings against Rohingya insurgents in 2017. The investigations were recommended by a Myanmar government-backed commission—The Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE)— set up to investigate alleged human rights violations in Rakhine State.

The Myanmar President’s Office declined to comment on the report submitted to the ICJ.

While information on the contents of the report remains scarce, the President’s Office publicly took a number of steps in April related to its compliance with the ICJ’s provisional measures order, issuing directives encouraging anti-hate speech activities, and ordering compliance with the Genocide Convention and the preservation of evidence of atrocities in Rakhine.

However, Sam Zarifi, secretary-general of the International Commission of Jurists, said on Friday that Myanmar could do more to prevent acts of genocide by implementing comprehensive legal and constitutional reforms.

The commission pointed out that the government has yet to amend or repeal key laws that facilitate discrimination against the Rohingya, including the 1982 Citizenship Law, the 2015 Race and Religion Protection Laws and the 2014 Myanmar National Human Rights Commission Law.

In its recent report condemning the Myanmar military for failing to deliver justice in the killing of journalist Ko Par Gyi while in military custody in September 2014, the commission said a number of provisions in Myanmar’s laws facilitate impunity for serious human rights violations committed by soldiers against civilians. No one has yet been held accountable for the journalist’s death.

“Accountability lies at the heart of prevention, and so long as the Tatmadaw [the military] remains unaccountable to the civilian authorities, the cycle of impunity for criminal atrocities within the country will continue,” Zarifi said.

Less than a week after issuing its provisional order in January, the ICJ announced the deadlines for the submission of Gambia’s initial pleading in the case, and for Myanmar’s reply, as July and January next year, respectively.

However, the ICJ announced on Tuesday that in response to a request made by Gambia in April the court had on May 18  extended the deadlines by three months for both countries due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to the order, the deadlines were postponed from July 23, 2020 to Oct. 23, 2020 for Gambia and from Jan. 25, 2021 to July 23, 2021 for Myanmar.

According to the ICJ press release, Myanmar’s legal team indicated in a letter dated April 28, 2020 that although the Myanmar government did not consider the COVID-19 pandemic sufficient justification to postpone the deadlines, it neither supported nor opposed Gambia’s request and that it would be up to the ICJ “to decide whether The Gambia ha[d] established a sufficient justification for an extension of time”.

This story was updated on Tuesday night to include the ICJ’s announcement on the extension of the deadlines.

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