Myanmar: Government Fails to Protect Rohingya After World Court Order
Ahead of the 23 May deadline for Myanmar to report on its compliance with the International Court of Justice’s (ICJ) order to take “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya, Nicholas Bequelin, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for Asia, said:
“Despite the International Court’s order nothing has changed for the estimated 600,000 Rohingya who live in Rakhine State in dire conditions, including around 126,000 whom the authorities are holding indefinitely in camps.”
“The Rohingya in Rakhine State are still denied their rights to nationality, freedom of movement and access to services, including healthcare. They are also caught in an escalating armed conflict between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army.
“Internet blackouts have kept the Rohingya and other minorities in Rakhine and Chin States deprived of potentially life-saving information and impeded monitoring of the humanitarian situation on the ground. This information blackout puts people at greater at risk, especially in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“While Myanmar’s recent presidential directives ordering government personnel not to commit genocide or destroy evidence appear in line with the International Court order, the reality remains that no meaningful steps to end atrocities – including the crime of apartheid – have been taken.
“An additional directive ordering officials to halt ‘hate speech’ is long overdue, but lacks sufficient guarantees that it cannot be used to further curtail freedom of expression. Without meaningful follow-up and transparency around Myanmar’s compliance with the ICJ order, these measures can only be seen as window dressing.
“Until there is genuine accountability for those responsible for crimes under international law, there is little hope for improvement in the lives of the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities in Rakhine, Kachin and northern Shan States. These populations still suffer from widespread human rights violations at the hands of the Myanmar authorities. Amnesty International renews its call for the UN Security Council to urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court.”
On 11 November 2019, the Gambia filed a case at the ICJ, accusing Myanmar of breaching its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The complaint included an urgent request for the Court to order “provisional measures” to prevent all acts that may amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide against the Rohingya and protect the community from further harm while the case is being adjudicated.
Public hearings on provisional measures were held in the Hague on 10-12 December 2019. Myanmar’s delegation, headed by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, denied accusations of genocide, and urged the Court to reject the case and refuse the request for provisional measures.
On 23 January 2020 the ICJ granted the provisional measures and ordered Myanmar to report back on their implementation within four months, and every six months thereafter until the case concludes. The decision required Myanmar to “take all measures within its power” to protect the Rohingya from genocide, to ensure the preservation of evidence relating to allegations of genocide and to prevent “public incitement” to commit genocide.
The order came only a few days after the Myanmar government-established Independent Commission of Enquiry submitted its final report on Rakhine State to the President of Myanmar. The Commission concluded that while the Myanmar security forces may have been responsible for war crimes and “disproportionate use of force”, it found no evidence of genocidal intent. The full report has yet to be made public.
Since February, fighting between the Myanmar military and the Arakan Army, an ethnic Rakhine armed group, has escalated in Rakhine State and neighboring Chin State, with reports of serious violations and rising civilian casualties, including a staff member of the World Health Organization killed in clashes on 20 April. Both the military and the armed group blamed each other for the attack.
A unilateral ceasefire adopted in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic does not apply to the areas where the Myanmar military is fighting the Arakan Army, which the Myanmar authorities deem to be a “terrorist organization”.