Myanmar attacks Rohingya genocide case at UN's top court

Jan Hennop, Danny Kemp - Agence France-Presse
Myanmar attacks Rohingya genocide case at UN's top court
This photo taken on January 23, 2022 shows Rohingya men unloading fish from boats along a beach at Thal Chaung camp in Rakhine state.

THE HAGUE, Netherlands — Myanmar hit out Monday at a genocide case brought against it by The Gambia for alleged persecution of Rohingya Muslims, urging the UN's highest court to drop the claim on legal grounds.

Banjul dragged Myanmar before the International Court of Justice in 2019, accusing the predominantly Buddhist country of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority after a bloody 2017 military crackdown.

When the case opened in December 2019 Aung San Suu Kyi personally represented Myanmar at the Hague-based ICJ, but she was ousted as the Asian country's civilian leader in a military coup last year.

The Nobel peace laureate, who faced criticism from rights groups for her involvement in the case, is now under house arrest and on trial by the same generals she defended in The Hague.

"Myanmar is... not seeking to impede the judicial process of the court," its agent Ko Ko Hlaing told the judges in the imposing courtroom at the Peace Palace in The Hague.

"On the contrary it is seeking to answer the proper administration of justice," Myanmar's international cooperation minister said.

EU sanctions

Both Hlaing, who was in court and Myanmar's attorney general Thida Oo, who was attending virtually, have already been hit with US sanctions over the coup.

And on Monday the European Union added 22 officials from the junta, taking the total to 65, and four companies tied to the regime, making 10 overall, to the bloc's sanctions list.

Among those targeted were the ministers for investment, industry and information, officials at the election commission and senior members of the military.

"The European Union is deeply concerned by the continuing escalation of violence in Myanmar and the evolution towards a protracted conflict with regional implications," the bloc said in a statement.  

"Since the military coup, the situation has continuously and gravely deteriorated."

'Proxy applicant'

Christopher Staker, another lawyer for Myanmar, said the ICJ did not have the jurisdiction because it was not a case brought by two states, as required by the ICJ's statutes.

"The application is inadmissible because the real applicant in these proceedings is the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation," Staker said.

He accused The Gambia of "not acting in it own rights... but stepping in on behalf... of the OIC," referring to the 57-member body set up in 1969 to represent global Muslim interests.

It was only after the OIC proposed that the case should be brought against Myanmar at the ICJ that The Gambia agreed to step forward, not the other way around, Staker argued.

Set up after World War II, the ICJ rules in disputes between states, and bases its findings mainly on international treaties and conventions.

"The OIC is an international organisation, not a state," Staker noted.

"It cannot be possible for an international organisation to bring a case before the court by using a state as a proxy applicant," he said, adding "The Gambia has never objected to this."

The ICJ made a provisional order in January 2020 that Myanmar must take "all measures" to prevent the alleged genocide of the Rohingya while the years-long proceedings are under way.

While its rulings are binding, the court has no real means to enforce them.

Bloody crackdown

Gambia will make its counter-arguments on Wednesday.

Around 850,000 Rohingya are languishing in camps in neighbouring Bangladesh while another 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar's southwestern Rakhine state. 

The Rohingya case at the ICJ has been complicated by the coup that ousted Suu Kyi and her civilian government and triggered mass protests and a bloody military crackdown. More than 1,500 civilians have been killed, according to a local monitoring group.

Suu Kyi now faces trial herself in Myanmar on a raft of charges that could see her jailed for more than 150 years.

Ahead of the hearing, the shadow "National Unity Government" dominated by lawmakers from Suu Kyi's ousted party said it, not the junta, "is the proper representative of Myanmar at the ICJ in the case".

It also rejects Myanmar's preliminary objections, saying the hearings for these should be cancelled and the court should quickly get down to the hearing of the substantive case.

The NUG holds no territory and has not been recognised by any foreign government, and has been declared a "terrorist" organisation by the junta.

The Gambia accuses Myanmar of breaching the 1948 UN genocide convention.

Banjul says its case is backed by the 57-nation OIC, Canada and the Netherlands.




As It Happens
LATEST UPDATE: July 22, 2022 - 12:32pm

A social media account run by the office of Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi quotes her as saying that "hate narratives from outside the country" have fueled tensions between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Rakhine communities in the country's west.

The Facebook page of the State Counsellor Office says Suu Kyi made the comment in a discussion with Christine Schraner Burgener, special envoy of the United Nations secretary-general for Myanmar. It says topics included the situation in Rakhine state, where about 700,000 ethnic Rohingya have fled since last August to escape violent counterinsurgency activities by security forces responding to attacks by a group of Rohingya militants. — AP

July 22, 2022 - 12:32pm

The UN's highest court will decide whether to throw out a case lodged by The Gambia against military-ruled Myanmar for the alleged genocide of Rohingya Muslims.

The west African nation accused Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2019 of breaching the UN genocide convention over a bloody 2017 crackdown.

Hundreds of thousands of minority Rohingya fled the Buddhist-majority southeast Asian country during the operation, bringing with them harrowing reports of murder, rape and arson.

The Hague-based ICJ said in a statement that it will at 1300 GMT "deliver its judgment on the preliminary objections raised by Myanmar". — AFP

May 26, 2022 - 8:18am

On his first trip to a remote and flood-prone island where Bangladesh has been relocating Rohingya, the UN Refugee Agency chief agreed to boost support for the shift, despite concerns people were moved there against their will. 

Speaking to reporters in Dhaka on Wednesday, High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi promised to "step up our presence" on the island.

Bangladesh aims to eventually relocate around 100,000 Rohingya refugees to the previously uninhabited Bhashan Char to ease overcrowding in the sprawling network of camps near Cox's Bazar.

Around 920,000 members of the stateless Muslim minority are currently packed into squalid border camps, reliant on aid after they fled violence and a 2017 military crackdown in neighbouring Myanmar. — AFP

April 20, 2022 - 12:00pm

Hundreds of Rohingya migrants from Myanmar broke out of a detention centre in northern Malaysia on Wednesday with six killed on a highway as they escaped, authorities said.

Many Rohingya arrive in Malaysia by boat after enduring harrowing, months-long sea journeys. Those that are caught are often sent to detention centres, which rights groups say are typically overcrowded and filthy.

A total of 528 people from the Muslim minority group fled a centre in Kedah state at 4:30 am (2030 GMT Tuesday), the country's immigration chief Khairul Dzaimee Daud said.

"A total of 362 detainees have been re-arrested. The search for the remaining detainees is continuing," he said in a statement. — AFP

October 22, 2021 - 2:58pm

Gunmen killed at least seven people and left others wounded in an assault Friday on an Islamic seminary in a Rohingya refugee camp on the Bangladesh-Myanmar border, police said.

Four people were killed instantly in Friday's attack and three others died at a hospital in the Balukhali camp. Police did not say how many people were wounded.

"We arrested one attacker immediately after the incident," Shihab Kaisar Khan, regional chief for an armed police battalion, told reporters. — AFP

September 3, 2020 - 8:50pm

Myanmar has returned dozens of Rohingya to camps in conflict-wracked Rakhine state, officials said Thursday, after arresting them at sea as they tried to flee what rights groups brand as "apartheid" conditions.

A group of 42 Rohingya Muslims — including two children — was detained last Thursday offshore of Bogale in Ayeyarwady region, local police told AFP.

The long-persecuted Rohingya are widely regarded as illegal immigrants in Myanmar, refused citizenship and unable to travel freely.

One of the group tested positive for coronavirus, but the rest arrived Wednesday night in Kyaukphyu in central Rakhine state, local MP Ba Shein told AFP.

His constituents were "very worried" by the coronavirus risk, he said. — AFP

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