The Lies that Bind

February 2nd, 2020  •  Author:   Progressive Voice  •  8 minute read
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“We believe that decisions made by the international court on matters related to acts committed using political power and military might are to bring forth the truth and serve to protect the people of Myanmar and aid us in achieving democracy, rights and justice.”

A statement by 103 civil society organizations

In the first legal victory since urging for international action for accountability for the Rohingya, the world’s highest court, in recognizing the Rohingya as a protected group, decided to order Myanmar[1] to protect their rights under the Genocide Convention, indicating four provisional measures in the case of The Gambia vs. Myanmar. Provisional Measures of the International Court of Justice (ICJ) are an extraordinary measure aimed at ensuring that the rights in question pending the court’s decisions are safeguarded from irreparable damage – in this case the rights of the Rohingya.

The legally binding Order by the ICJ instructs Myanmar to take all measures necessary to prevent genocide and ensure that its military does not commit acts of genocide against the Rohingya, while taking effective measures to prevent the destruction of evidence of crimes within its territory. In an extraordinary end to the preliminary measures hearing, the Order instructs Myanmar to report to the court on all measures taken to give effect to the Order within four months from the date of the Order and thereafter every six months until the final decision on the case is made. The decision by the judges of the ICJ was unanimous, adding to the weight of the court’s measures. While the ICJ does not have an enforcement mechanism, it can call on the UN Security Council to enforce its orders.

Responding to the court’s decision, Rohingya activist and president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK who was in the Hague when the Order was announced stated, “Today’s ruling by the ICJ is a crucial moment for Rohingya justice, and vindication for those of us who have lived through this genocide for decades.” The UN Secretary-General welcomed the court’s decision and urged Myanmar to comply with the Order of the court emphasizing that “decisions of the Court are binding.” Malaysia, in reiterating its support to The Gambia, called the Order “a step in the right direction,” while the UK also welcomed the decision and encouraged Myanmar to comply with the provisional measures.

In an expected reaction, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi who testified at the ICJ in December, shrugged off the Order stating “there was no genocide in Rakhine.” Spokesperson for Myanmar’s President’s Office cited the government appointed Independent Commission of Enquiry’s timely findings, which toed government lines that war crimes and serious human rights violations had been committed, but that it did not find “genocidal intent” in the case of the clearance operations in Rakhine State.

This response is not surprising, given that the State Counsellor’s Office issued a press release during the clearance operations in Rakhine State, stating that the claims of mass gang rapes and other sexual violence committed by the Myanmar military and its security forces against the Rohingya were “fake”.  Despite these lies, other ethnic communities who have suffered through clearance operations by the Myanmar military in the past have not forgotten the brutal tactics employed by the military.

The day before the ICJ hearing, Shan community groups produced a video testimony of witnesses and survivors of the military’s clearance operations in Shan State, better known as the “Four Cuts operations”, highlighting the brutal atrocities committed by the military. Between 1996 to 1998, over 1,000 villagers in Shan State were killed, and at least 625 women and girls suffered rape and other forms of sexual violence. The video is a reminder of the systematic pattern of atrocities that have taken place, not only in Rakhine State, but across ethnic areas in Myanmar. As the video producer Sai Khom Khai stated, “unless Burma’s military is brought to justice, these crimes will continue.”

Despite the lies and denials woven by Myanmar in its attempts to whitewash the ongoing genocide, fresh killings prove the reality of the risk and persecution Rohingya continue to face. Recently, the number of Rakhine and other ethnic communities displaced by the ongoing intense fighting between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military in Rakhine State has reached more than 100,000 people. Amid the intensification of clashes and as the ICJ ordered Myanmar to protect the Rohingya, two Rohingya women, one who was pregnant, were killed by the Myanmar military troops who shelled a Rohingya village. These events underline the upmost urgency for the international community to ensure that Myanmar implement the Order by the ICJ.

Myanmar must apply the provisional measures set forth by the court in a thorough manner. This means it must make systematic changes to its legislation, administration and policy, while ensuring an end to the impunity enjoyed by the Myanmar military and its security forces, and most importantly to provide protection to the most vulnerable group in Myanmar, namely the Rohingya. Meanwhile, as Myanmar remains unwilling and unable to conduct investigations into grave crimes and in prosecuting individuals who have committed crimes domestically, all avenues of criminal accountability remain urgent and relevant. As the rare statement by 103 civil society organizations from inside Myanmar that welcomed the ICJ ruling stated, “We believe that decisions made by the international court on matters related to acts committed using political power and military might are to bring forth the truth and serve to protect the people of Myanmar and aid us in achieving democracy, rights and justice.” The international community must now work together on the side of truth and justice and ensure that Myanmar implements the Order of the provisional measures as instructed by the ICJ.


[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week


Statements and Press Releases

Position of Civil Society Organizations on the Case Against Myanmar by the International Court of Justice Regarding the Potential Indication of Provisional Measures to Prevent Genocide

By 103 Civil Society Organizations

More Than 500 Jewish Clergy and 50 Organizations Call on the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee to Pursue Justice in Response to the Rohingya Genocide

By American Jewish World Service, Jewish Rohingya Justice Network

ICJ Ruling – International Pressure Needed To Force Burma To Comply

By Burma Campaign UK

ICJ Ruling a Major Victory for Rohingya That the World Must Enforce

By Burma Human Rights Network

Myanmar Investigation Tries to “Sweep the Rohingya Genocide Under the Carpet”

By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK

International Court of Justice Ruling A Crucial Moment for Rohingya Rights

By Burmese Rohingya Organisational UK

Woman Recovering in Hospital after Stepping on Landmine in Paletwa Township

By Chin Human Rights Organization

Arakan Army (AA) Tortures 3 Civilians in Paletwa Township

By Chin Human Rights Organization

AA အဖွဲ့က ကျီးလေရွာနေ သားအဖ(၃)ဦးကို ရွာလယ်သစ်ပင်မှာကြိုးတုတ်ချီကြပြီး ဝါးလုံးတွေနဲ့ရိုက်နှက်

By Chin Human Rights Organization

Free Rohingya Coalition is Alarmed by Genocide Denial Made by Aung San Suu Kyi’s Independent Commission of Enquiry

By Free Rohingya Coalition

International Community Must Press Myanmar to Comply With International Court of Justice Ruling

By International Campaign for the Rohingya

Myanmar: Implement “Provisional Measures” Order of the International Court of Justice Without Delay

By International Commission of Jurists

ICJ’s Findings on Myanmar and the Rohingya: UK statement

By Ministry of foreign Affairs, United Kingdom

Order by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on the Gambia’s Request for the Indication of Provisional Measures in the Case Concerning Application of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide

By Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Malaysia

Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in Myanmar Mission 15-23 January 2020 End of Mission Statement

By Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights

Report by the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) Not Credible

By Rohingya Youth Association

Rohingya Women Call for Justice, Solidarity, and Peace in Myanmar

By Rohingya Women

သျှမ်းလူမှုအဖွဲ့အစည်းများ၏ ထုတ်ပြန်ကြေငြာချက်

By Shan Community Groups, Shan Human Rights Foundation

The Four Cuts: New Video Exposes Horror of Burma Army “Clearance Operations” in Shan State

By Shan Community Groups, Shan Human Rights Foundation

Myanmar : Statement by the Spokesperson on the ICJ Ruling on the Case Brought by The Gambia Against Myanmar

By The European Union

Statement Attributable to the Spokesman for the Secretary-General – on the International Court of Justice Order in the Case “The Gambia vs. Myanmar”

By UN Secretary General 

Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.”