The Myanmar Genocide against the Rohingya people came up in both international courts this week. Find out about the atrocity, the role and history of each court and why you don’t hear much about the plight of “the most oppressed people on Earth.”
In earlier stories, we’ve talked about two topics that came up again this week. One was about the Rohingya, who observers call the most oppressed people on Earth. The other was our review of the International Criminal Court on its 21st anniversary.
The Rohingya are (or were) an ethnic minority in Myanmar. The authorities began a crackdown on their communities in 2017. That led to the most massive exodus in Asia since the Viet Nam War. They now live as refugees, mainly in Bangladesh but also in India, Thailand, Malaysia, and wherever else they could find shelter in Southeast Asia. International observers call the attacks ethnic cleansing and genocide.
What brings our two stories together now is that Myanmar (Burma) authorities have come before both international courts over their treatment of the Rohingya.
observers call attacks ethnic cleansing
We’ve explained the role and history of the International Criminal Court (ICC) before. As we told readers, the ICC is only 21 years old. Its function is to prosecute specific individuals who have violated international law through actions like waging war, genocide or crimes against humanity.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) is a separate body with a more established history. We haven’t talked about it until now. This court traces its roots back to the turn of the 20th century. The first permanent tribunal for peacefully settling international disputes was called the Permanent Court of Arbitration. It started in 1899.
After World War I, it was tragically clear that the Permanent Court of Arbitration hadn’t managed to put an end to war. The League of Nations set up a more robust court and called it the Permanent Court of International Justice (PCIJ). It lasted until WWII.
Un established International Court of Justice
In the wake of the Second World War, the United Nations established the present International Court of Justice directly based on the PCIJ. Many people simply call it the World Court.
We mention both international courts because they each got involved in the Rohingya story this week. First, Gambia brought charges against the state of Myanmar for genocide against the Rohingya people. Gambia, representing the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, demanded that the World Court “stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately.”
Gambia’s Justice Minister explained to the Associated Press that he wanted to “send a clear message to Myanmar and to the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of terrible atrocities that are occurring around us.”
“World must not stand by and do nothing”
He went on, “It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes.” So, the week got off to a poor start for Myanmar’s leadership.
Then, on Thursday, the ICC approved prosecutors’ requests to open an investigation into crimes committed by specific Myanmar leaders. The court agreed that the widespread acts of violence committed by the Myanmar leadership “could qualify as the crimes against humanity of deportation across the Myanmar-Bangladesh border and persecution on grounds of ethnicity and/or religion against the Rohingya population.” The ruling of the court was unanimous.
The UN has monitored the plight of the Rohingya since 2017. After a two-year investigation, a fact-finding mission submitted its final report in September. They concluded that the crackdown in 2017 involved “genocidal acts.”
six Myanmar generals charged with genocide
Thousands were murdered, and at least 740,000 innocent people fled the country. The Mission named six Myanmar generals, including the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing, as perpetrators of genocide against the Rohingya and for crimes against humanity aimed at other ethnic groups.
Myanmar denies the charges. They claim their forces were defending the country against attacks by Rohingya militants. The ICC disagreed, ruling that prosecutors put forth enough evidence to call for charging the generals “so that a competent court can determine their liability for genocide.”
As we explained before, the Myanmar majority claims that the Rohingya don’t belong in Myanmar. They believe that Rohingya are Bengali immigrants who should leave their country. The truth is that the Rohingya have lived in Myanmar for generations. This dispute is the root cause of the ethnic cleansing campaigns.
Myanmar genocide doesn’t fit media narrative
Readers may wonder why they don’t hear more about an ongoing genocide against the most oppressed people on Earth. I have a theory about that. The Myanmar genocide doesn’t fit the mainstream media narrative, particularly in the United States.
You see, the Rohingya are Muslims, while the Myanmar majority are Buddhists. Ever since 9/11, we’re supposed to think of Muslims as violent oppressors and Buddhists as enlightened pacifists.
Here we see Buddhists, led by their monks, violently persecuting hundreds of thousands of helpless and harmless Muslims. That’s not on the agenda. It would take an in-depth analysis of religions as embedded in cultures and internally diverse. If you’ve met one Muslim, you’ve met one Muslim (or Buddhist).
“Rohingya target of Government attack”
The UN report stated, “the Rohingya remain the target of a Government attack aimed at erasing the identity and removing them from Myanmar, and that this has caused them great suffering. Additionally, many of the factors that contributed to the killings, rapes and gang rapes, torture, forced displacement and other grave human rights violations by government authorities that the Mission documented in its 2018 report are still present.”
There’s a way readers can help. The UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) accepts public donations. You can find them here. You can also learn how to be a Human Rights Defender in your own community here.
We always have more to learn if we dare to know.