The recent intervention in the Rohingya genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), both by the Maldives and a joint submission by six countries – while welcome – was long-overdue after years of failure to hold the perpetrators accountable. Such moves towards fulfilling legal obligations are crucial to advancing justice for the Rohingya, and in turn all other religious and ethnic minorities, and civilians across Myanmar, who have endured decades of grave human rights violations and crimes against humanity, both before and after the attempted coup by the Myanmar military in 2021. Justice and accountability are essential measures to deter repeated and further atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military.
On 10 November 2023, the Maldives declared an intervention, pursuant to Article 63(2) of the Statute of the ICJ, regarding Myanmar’s alleged violations of the Genocide Convention against the Rohingya. Following this announcement, six other states, namely the governments of Canada, Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom, issued a joint statement of their intervention in The Gambia v. Myanmar case. Such formal submission by the latter had long been anticipated – and overdue – following the announcement of each respective country’s intention to intervene over the years. These states have long been bound by legal obligations under international treaties, and their intervention finally aligns with their responsibility to seek justice and accountability for the Rohingya.
This week’s historical interventions have been welcomed by Myanmar civil society organizations, as the declarations mean that these states are able to make legal arguments before the ICJ regarding Myanmar’s violations of the Genocide Convention against the Rohingya population. Women’s Peace Network (WPN) welcomed the filing of the joint intervention and invited other governments to follow suit – the call made by WPN, Progressive Voice and partner civil society organizations in their years of advocacy since The Gambia filed the case at the ICJ. Similarly, Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, welcomed the UK’s intervention stating, “The intervention of other countries in support of the Gambia strengthens the case and increases the pressure on the Burmese military who are still committing genocide against Rohingya.”
While these interventions have been significant, the international community has taken over six years to substantially propel justice for the Rohingya. Failure of the wider international community to step in indicates a breach of responsibility, and even the absence of courage and morality. Delayed justice from the ICJ case continues to be reflected in the suffering of victims and survivors of genocide living inside Myanmar or enduring horrid living conditions on the Bangladesh border. Rohingya who made landing in Aceh, Indonesia, on 19 November are just the latest confirmation that many Rohingya refugees are more willing to make perilous journeys to neighboring countries, risking their lives, than returning to Rakhine State, where a safe and durable return with guarantee of their rights cannot be possible. Rohingya in Rakhine State are confined to internment camps in the middle of a rapidly intensifying armed conflict with appalling living conditions, and largely continue to be denied humanitarian assistance six months after the devastation of Cyclone Mocha.
If history has taught Myanmar people anything, it is that blanket impunity granted to the barbaric Myanmar military has enabled and emboldened them to carry out more vicious atrocity crimes – which the world is still witnessing today. Justice granted to the Rohingya will be the first in the chain to break the cycle of impunity which has plagued the history of modern Myanmar. The inclusive society that respects, fulfills, and protects people’s human rights and inherent human dignity, to which the Myanmar people aspire, can never be achieved without justice for the Rohingya.
But justice cannot be served by simply recording deaths and violations for the sake of documentation and issuing statements of concern and resolutions without concrete action. We have seen justice for the Rohingya delayed time and again due to the lack of political will from the international community. There is still an abundance of options available to advance justice and accountability. Referring the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court (ICC) or establishing an ad hoc tribunal is the most practical course of action that could have been and still can be taken by the UN Security Council (UNSC) to address justice and accountability for all of the Rohingya who have endured the most hideous crime of genocide.
Such actions must also be taken for ethnic minorities who have faced crimes against humanity for decades and for those who have had to endure the grave human rights violations and mass atrocities – all committed by the same perpetrator – the Myanmar military. It is precisely the international community’s – particularly UNSC members’ – lack of political will that has delayed justice for the Rohingya. Anything is possible if there is sincere political will to put an end to the wholesale impunity enjoyed by the Myanmar military and to fight for justice in solidarity with the Rohingya people and the people of Myanmar. The same can be said about the world’s inaction when it comes to the atrocity crimes currently being inflicted on civilians who have lost their homes, loved ones, and human dignity by the junta since the attempted coup in 2021.
The junta’s illegal coup attempt was born out of impunity, which the junta still manifestly and inherently enjoys, as it continues committing widespread and systematic human rights violations throughout the country. If international justice mechanisms fail to prosecute the perpetrators of the Rohingya genocide and to stop the junta’s all-out war of terror against the people of Myanmar, that speaks to the failure of the international community’s responsibility to enforce the rule of law while also eroding the trust of global citizens. It has been nearly one year since the UNSC’s Resolution on Myanmar 2669, and since then the junta’s airstrikes have doubled. It is imperative that the UNSC ramp up its actions and actualize measures outlined in the UNSC Resolution that thus far have simply not been acted on. The UNSC must immediately refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC or set up an ad hoc tribunal through a resolution under Chapter VII of the UN Charter. At the same time, the ICC must fully investigate all international crimes occurring throughout Myanmar based on the National Unity Government’s declaration to accept the ICC’s jurisdiction over crimes committed in Myanmar since 1 July 2002. The world must act now to ensure that justice for the Rohingya – and by extension for all the Myanmar people – is no longer delayed.
 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.
By ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights
By Burma Campaign UK
By Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
By European Union
By European Union Commission
By International Court of Justice
By The Republic of Maldives
By United Nations General Assembly
By United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights
By United Nations Secretary-General
By Women’s Peace Network
By UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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.”