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WFMC News for January 2020: International Court of Justice ruling on the Rohingya crisis

On Thursday, January 23rd, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued their ruling on the case submitted to them in November by the Gambia against the government of Myanmar for failing in its obligation to prevent and punish the perpetration of the crime of genocide against the Rohingya people.

The ICJ unanimously ordered Myanmar to “take all measures within its power” to prevent acts within the scope of the Genocide Convention, including killing or causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group and deliberately inflicting conditions calculated to bring about the group’s physical destruction.

As well, Myanmar “must take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of any evidence related to allegations” of genocide. Myanmar was instructed to report back to the court on the ruling’s implementation in four months. The ruling is binding, but the court has no way to enforce it.

The complete summary of the ICJ’s judgement is here.

In response, the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs released a statement saying, in part, “there has been no genocide in Rakhine” and that the “unsubstantiated condemnation of Myanmar by some human rights actors has presented a distorted picture of the situation in Rakhine.”

The ICJ is the principal court of the United Nations and was established by the UN’s Charter in 1945. The role of the ICJ is to settle legal disputes submitted by States and to give advisory opinions on legal questions referred to it by UN organs and agencies.

A discussion of the situation faced by the Rohingya people, the ICJ case, as well as the investigation currently being conducted by the International Criminal Court, can be found in the latest issue of Mondial, Accountability and justice for the Rohingya.

The episode of CBC Radio’s Ideas, Myanmar, the Rohingya people and genocide: Inside the International Court of Justice, includes excerpts from testimony at the ICJ in December and an interview with Payam Akhavan, a member of the Gambia’s legal team, a former United Nations prosecutor, and professor of law at McGill University.

Bob Rae, who is Canada’s Special Envoy to Myanmar, recently discussed the history of the Rohingya crisis on his podcast Political Stripes with Bob Rae.

In Canada, a number of NGOs supported Parliament’s unanimous resolution September 2018 characterizing the crimes against the Rohingya as an act of genocide. WFMC was also critical of the 2019 report by Rae for its lack of emphasis on the state responsibility of Myanmar (under the genocide convention) to prevent acts of genocide.

Anticipating this week’s ICJ decision, John Packer, Director of the University of Ottawa Human Rights Research and Education Centre, who is also a member of the World Federalists, told the Globe and Mail, “After committing in December to ‘explore the options’ following the court’s forthcoming decision, perhaps Canada might finally decide to act. Others are watching and would follow the Canadian lead. But just applauding from the sidelines is not action and is not enough to advance the case.”

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