International Court of Justice Delivers Rebuke of Myanmar’s Abuse of Rohingya Minority

ICJ Rules Rohingya Face “Real and Imminent Risk” and Imposes Benchmarks for Protection

Physicians for Human Rights (PHR) welcomes the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) decision today to support The Gambia’s request that the government of Myanmar take all necessary actions to protect the country’s Muslim Rohingya minority. This is the ICJ’s first official response to The Gambia’s official complaint of Myanmar’s violations of the United Nations’ 1948 Genocide Convention, linked to the extreme military abuses against Muslim Rohingya civilians. The ICJ decision specifically addressed The Gambia’s request for urgent provisional measures to protect the Rohingya population while the Court undertakes the longer term judicial consideration of The Gambia’s genocide allegations. Today’s ICJ decision constitutes an important milestone toward international accountability for the widespread and systematic violence inflicted by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya in northern Rakhine state in late 2017.

The ICJ decision specified that the Myanmar government must:

  • “Take all measures within its power to prevent” actions that meet the legal definition of acts of genocide.
  • Ensure that the Myanmar military “do not commit acts of genocide, or of conspiracy to commit genocide, of direct and public incitement to commit genocide, of attempt to commit genocide, or of complicity in genocide.”
  • “Take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of any evidence related to allegations of acts within the scope of Article II of the Genocide Convention.”
  • “Submit a report to [the ICJ] on all measures taken” to support the above rulings within four months of this decision, and subsequently every six months until the ICJ makes its final ruling on the Gambia’s genocide complaint against Myanmar.

In a written statement, Myanmar’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said that the government “takes note” of the ICJ’s ruling, but failed to clarify its intent to comply. Instead, the statement referenced “unsubstantiated condemnation of Myanmar by human rights actors [that] has presented a distorted picture of the situation in Rakhine,” without providing details. That response underscores the need for robust and unwavering international support for the ICJ’s ruling and for the wider campaign for accountability and justice for the Rohingya.

Specifically, PHR calls on the United Nations Security Council to recognize the gravity of the alleged crimes and the clear threat posed to international peace and security. Furthermore, PHR calls for the UN Security Council and UN member states, where relevant, to ensure strict enforcement of the provisional measures by taking all appropriate actions, including regular meetings on the situation, targeted sanctions against senior Myanmar government and security forces’ officials, and to impose an arms embargo on the country. Failing UN Security Council action, or in the case of any inexcusable use of the veto in a mass atrocity situation, the UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council as well as individual governments should take all appropriate actions to support peace, justice, and accountability in Myanmar.

PHR has used medical expertise to document and shed light on a pattern of grave human rights violations in Myanmar for more than 15 years. Having indicated in previous research that the human rights abuses against the Rohingya should be investigated as crimes against humanity, a PHR investigation in 2018 used forensic medical evaluations and qualitative interviews to prove that Myanmar security forces had orchestrated a widespread and systematic campaign of violence against the community. Since then, PHR has continued to document and shed light on underreported aspects of the devastating effects of the campaign against the Rohingya, including the long-term disabilities of survivors in the report “Shot While Fleeing”, and has called for Myanmar to be investigated by the International Criminal Court (ICC) or before other justice mechanisms that have jurisdiction to try individuals for serious international crimes, including crimes against humanity and genocide.

Additionally, PHR reiterates its support for parallel legal proceedings underway that give some promise to victims of future justice and accountability. They include the ICC’s investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and filed in national courts under the legal principle of universal jurisdiction.

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