World Court Denounces Rohingya Genocide

The World Court ruled unanimously yesterday against the Myanmar government’s Rohingya genocide. Find out why this is a setback for Myanmar’s ruler, Aan San Suu Kyi and a victory for universal human rights.

In earlier posts, we’ve talked about the Rohingya people of Myanmar. They’re the oppressed Muslim minority in that Buddhist majority country. Azeem Ibrahim chronicles their plight in more detail in his book The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide

In August of 2017, the Myanmar military started cracking down on the Rohingya. To avoid being victims of ethnic cleansing, at least 700,000 of them fled Myanmar and took refuge in makeshift camps in Bangladesh and other countries.

Authorities allegedly abused their human rights in the crackdown. The media say that there are still about 600,000 Rohingya struggling to survive inside Myanmar.


We’ve also told readers about the case that came before the World Court. Thats the United Nations’ main judicial arm, known formally as the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The ICJ sits in The Hague, in the Netherlands.

It has 15 judges who serve nine-year terms. The World Court settles legal disputes brought by UN member countries and gives legal opinions to other UN bodies.

Last November, Gambia brought a case to the World Court on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC). Representing the global Muslim community, Gambia accused Myanmar of crimes against humanity and genocide against the Rohingya.


At the time, Gambia’s Justice Minster told Associated Press that the goal of bringing a case to the World Court was 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.” He continued, “It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes.”

Myanmars’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi has had a strange career. She was the daughter of the founder of modern Myanmar, Aung San.

Myanmar was once ruled by a military junta. Suu Kyi was the face of the uprising against it. She won the 1990 election, but instead of handing over power, the military placed her under house arrest, where she remained for the better part of 15 years.


Suu Kyi was a well known political prisoner. She won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991. After a lot of political turmoil, she ended up as a kind of de facto ruler of Myanmar in 2016. She’s called the State Counsellor today.

What’s surprising is that, after having experienced all those violations of her own human rights, she has shown no sympathy for the plight of the thousands of Rohingyas facing the same fate. Myanmar’s State Counsellor stood before the World Court and defended her security forces last December.

Suu Kyi accused Gambia of painting “an incomplete and misleading factual picture” of events in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, where the crackdown on the Rohingya Muslims took place.


Myanmar’s ruler appeared to resent what she saw as the World Court’s intrusion into Myanmar’s affairs. The State Counsellor told the judges, “If war crimes have been committed, they will be prosecuted within our own military justice system.” 

Suu Kyi promised to punish any military leaders found guilty of war crimes. Myanmar’s State Counsellor doesn’t seem to have impressed any of the judges.

Yesterday, in a unanimous decision, the World Court ruled against her. It ordered Myanmar to “take all measures within its power” to prevent the killing of members of the Rohingya community.


The World Court also ordered Myanmar to prevent anyone from inflicting any bodily or mental harm on the minority group. This goes for the military and “any irregular armed units.” There were some other orders to protect the Rohingya.

The World Court prohibited Myanmar from destroying records of the genocide to avoid any cover-ups. Myanmar has to submit a progress report to the World Court within four months, and then every six months after that.

Antonio Guterres, chief of the UN, supported the World Court ruling. His spokesman told the media, “The Secretary-General strongly supports the use of peaceful means to settle international disputes.  He further recalls that, pursuant to the (UN) Charter and to the Statute of the Court, decisions of the Court are binding and trusts that Myanmar will duly comply with the Order from the Court.”


In the next step, the UN Security Council will assess the World Court’s orders. The trouble is, member nations keep dragging their feet. That means that the UN probably won’t settle this case for years. Meanwhile, the Rohingya refugees languish in their squalid refugee camps.

Coincidentally, Yanghee Lee, the UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar’s Rohingya crisis also wound up her last mission yesterday. She accepted the assignment in 2014. Myanmar hasn’t allowed her into the country since 2017.

She told UN News, “Myanmar’s denial of access has not dissuaded me from doing everything I can to impartially report to the international community accurate first-hand information that has been provided to me during my visits to the region. My mission and the end of my tenure come at a critical time for human rights in Myanmar and I will continue to strive to do my utmost to improve the situation.” 


The world will get a more complete picture of the Myanmar genocide when Lee submits her final report to the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva next March.

We always have more to learn if we dare to know.

Learn more:

UN News
The Gambia v. Myanmar
The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide
Human Rights Call to Action From UN Chief
Canada’s Genocide
Myanmar’s Bizarre Rohingya Charm Offensive
Myanmar Genocide Facing World Court
International Criminal Court turns 21


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