ICJ hearing is a chance to show Myanmar’s failed coup plotters their days are numbered
Once again, the people of Myanmar are denied justice and accountability.
In a week-long public hearing due to begin at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague on Monday, the country’s illegal junta will try to block the case brought against it by The Gambia for violating the convention on the genocide during the so-called “demining operations” in 2017 that drove 750,000 Rohingya into Bangladesh.
Regime officials at the hearing are expected to raise procedural objections to prevent the court from proceeding to the merits of the case, in which case the Rohingya people could expect a long-delayed form of justice.
As if to deliberately mock the international justice system, putschist Min Aung Hlaing named two people accused of committing serious human rights violations and overthrowing the rule of law: Win Shein, Minister of Planning, Finance and regime industry, and Thida oo, its attorney general – to his ICJ team.
Win Shein has been facing EU and US sanctions since last year, while the US, UK and Canada added Thida Oo to their sanctions lists amid the anniversary of last year’s Feb. 1 coup for fabricating charges against State Councilor Aung San Suu Kyi in an effort to ban her and other Democratic leaders from politics.
Even the presence of the junta at “the principal judicial organ of the United Nations” is an affront to international law, as it violates the decision of the United Nations General Assembly to reject the powers of the military regime and leave the choice of the National Unity Government (NUG) for Myanmar’s permanent representative to the world body, Kyaw Moe Tun, at his headquarters. This resolution was unanimously approved last December by the 193 members of the General Assembly.
By allowing an unaccredited and illegal military regime to represent the country anyway, the ICJ not only flouts the decision of the General Assembly, but also undermines the democratic will of the people of Myanmar, who in November 2020 voted overwhelmingly. majority to reject military support parties and embrace their country’s transition to democracy. We therefore urge all UN and international organizations, especially judicial bodies such as the ICJ whose mandates center on the rule of law, to refrain from any action that legitimizes the military junta in international affairs.
Furthermore, we demand that all UN Member States and UN bodies respect the democratic will of the people of Myanmar by recognizing the NUG, which the vast majority see as representing their aspirations.
The case for recognizing the NUG was detailed in a landmark legal opinion signed by some of the world’s leading experts in case law last September, as well as in a report by the Special Advisory Council for Myanmar, an independent group of international experts.
Significantly, over 800 Rohingya genocide survivors represented by the Geneva-based non-governmental organization Legal Action Worldwide (LAW) have called on the international community, including through communications to the President of the ICJ, to recognize the NUG as the legitimate government of Myanmar. . The Myanmar Accountability Project (MAP) – of which we are the executive directors – has also launched a petition calling for recognition of the NUG.
Many of LAW’s Rohingya clients, who are survivors of sexual and gender-based violence, overwhelmingly support the ICJ case and consistently claim that justice, including an end to Tatmadaw’s impunity, is a fundamental requirement for their return. to Myanmar from Bangladesh.
But these survivors of the Rohingya genocide, along with the rest of Myanmar’s beleaguered people who are crying out for an end to the crisis that has overwhelmed their country, are sadly abandoned by the multilateral institutions responsible for their protection.
The UN Security Council has been neutralized by China and Russia, for whom Myanmar is a backyard for arms trade and sales. The current chairman of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, Cambodian dictator Hun Sen, was recently rebuffed by Min Aung Hlaing when he tried to resuscitate the regional body’s five-point plan . And the UN Secretary-General’s new special envoy for Myanmar, Noeleen Heyzer, recently compromised herself desperately when she suggested that the junta participates in a power-sharing agreement with the NUG.
Faced with these dismal failures, Myanmar remains a killing field. The Rohingya homeland, Rakhine State, has become a vast prison camp for displaced communities, where the junta continues to act with impunity. In large swaths of the rest of Myanmar, junta forces are undertaking increasingly desperate rampages against vulnerable communities in ever more futile attempts to bring the country under their control.
Mass murders, summary executions, indiscriminate aerial bombings and widespread arson are just some of the industrial-scale human rights abuses perpetrated by Myanmar’s failed coup leaders.
This brings us back to the ICJ hearing. In 2019, the court unanimously imposed “provisional measures” to prevent further acts of genocide by the army and to ensure the preservation of evidence related to possible acts of genocide.
Two years later, it is clear that these measures have failed, and while the tribunal has dragged its bureaucratic feet, the very crimes it envisions have continued in a widespread and systematic fashion.
We therefore urge the ICJ to move beyond procedural wrangling for the Rohingya Genocide merits hearing. The Myanmar Independent Investigative Mechanism, a massive database of junta crimes, has plenty of evidence that would prove decisive in the case against Myanmar’s military leaders.
Most importantly, the Rohingya must have their day in court, a cathartic moment of truth and recognition, and an essential milestone on their long journey to justice and accountability.
Even if the court proceeds with a substantive hearing, a decision on whether the junta committed genocide will likely take years. That is why we also urge UN Member States to take unilateral and collective action to bring perpetrators of international crimes to justice and achieve full accountability.
The application of universal jurisdiction, under which perpetrators are prosecuted in national courts, is a largely uncharted path to justice with respect to Myanmar. The unprecedented case of the Burmese organization Rohingya UK in Argentina and the criminal proceedings that MAP will bring in the coming weeks are good examples of this.
There must be more efforts like this to warn Myanmar’s generals that they will be held to account and their days are numbered. Above all, the people of Myanmar must know that their courageous struggle for justice is supported by the outside world and that they are not forgotten.
Chris Gunness is director of the Myanmar Accountability Project, where Damian Lilly is director of protection.