European member states of the United Nations called for Myanmar on Tuesday to take measures to hold to account those responsible for committing human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims after the Security Council failed to support an order by the international body’s top court to protect members of the minority group.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Jan. 23 ordered Myanmar to implement emergency provisions to protect Rohingya living in the country from genocide and to preserve evidence of atrocities from a 2017 military-led crackdown targeting them.
After the Council did not reach an agreement on issuing a declaration urging Myanmar to comply with the ICJ’s order, current Council members France, Estonia, Germany, and Belgium, and former member Poland issued a statement calling on the Southeast Asian nation to take measures to prevent a Rohingya genocide.
“Myanmar must address the root causes of its conflicts” and take “credible action to bring to justice those responsible for human rights violations,” the joint statement said, according to news wire reports.
“Myanmar must also create conditions for and facilitate a voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable return of the Rohingya to Myanmar,” the statement said, referring to the yet to be realized repatriation of some of the more than 740,000 Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh during the crackdown. The Rohingya who have been officially approved for repatriation have refused to return, citing safety concerns and demands for full citizenship.
Myanmar Muslim leader Aye Lwin said that compliance with the ICJ’s order would help Myanmar, whose reputation in the international community now lies in tatters.
“If you look on the bright side of the ICJ’s provisional measures order, it is a chance to recover the reputation of the country,” said Aye Lwin, who once sat on a commission set up to examine the Rohingya issue.
Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director of New York-based Human Rights Watch, told RFA’s Myanmar Service on Wednesday that China’s decision to go against the other members of the Security Council does not give Myanmar a leg up concerning the ICJ.
“This will not affect the ICJ’s decision for Myanmar,” he told RFA. “There will be no change in Myanmar’s responsibilities mandated by the ICJ’s order. Just because China stands with Myanmar at the U.N. Security Council doesn’t mean the Myanmar government has won the lawsuit.”
The court is now handling a larger case against Myanmar filed by Gambia in November on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation for violating the Genocide Convention during the alleged expulsion of Rohingya to Bangladesh amid the violence.
Others put a positive spin on the objection by China, Myanmar's major ally, during the Council's closed-door session.
Myo Nyunt, spokesman of the ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party, said objections by both China and Vietnam give Myanmar an opportunity to buy more time regarding the ICJ’s order.
“We can buy more time as our friendly countries have objected to the decision to use the U.N.’s power,” he said. “We welcome their objections.”
Myo Nyunt also said that a Security Council declaration on the matter is unnecessary because Myanmar is already implementing measures to hold perpetrators of atrocities to account.
“The provisional measures by the U.N.’s ICJ are the processes we are already implementing, so no additional action needs to be taken on the decision,” he said.
The ICJ’s legally binding order requires Myanmar to prevent the killing or serious injury of the Rohingya, ensure that the military does not harm the Rohingya or conspire to commit genocide, preserve evidence related to the allegations, and report on its compliance with the measures until the court issues a final decision on the case.
The first report is due in four months, with subsequent reports due every six months.
“The only additional work is to submit reports in four months, then every six months,” Myo Nyunt said.
Retired military officer and political analyst Aung Myo noted that Myanmar’s armed forces said it will try those accused of war crimes in Rakhine in military courts.
“The military already announced that it will take action against the violators,” he said. “There are also instances where the military has prosecuted violators. They are doing it now, so there is no additional action needed for the ICJ’s decision.”
So far, Myanmar’s armed forces have conducted only two rare courts-martial of officers and other soldiers accused of committing grave rights abuses during the 2017 crackdown.
During the first trial, seven soldiers were sentenced in March 2018 to 10 years in prison for killing a group of Rohingya men and boys, but were later pardoned and released.
Hearings are currently being held in another case in which soldiers are accused of killing hundreds of Rohingya and dumping their bodies in mass graves.
Consequences ‘will be enormous’
Others meanwhile warned that if Myanmar authorities fail to implement the ICJ’s provisional measures, the country itself will likely be brought before the Security Council.
“I don’t know what the Myanmar government’s response will be, but if it gets worse, this case could go [again] to the U.N. Security Council,” said Myanmar military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.
Rohingya activist Wai Wai Nu said Myanmar must comply with the ICJ's order or face more serious consequences at the U.N.
“If Myanmar fails to comply with the ICJ’s provisional measures, the consequences for Myanmar will be enormous,” she said. “At least the U.N. security Council will issue a decision on Myanmar.”
“Second, Myanmar’s arguments in the [genocide] case will be weak if it fails to comply,” she added. “Myanmar could lose the case.”
Myanmar also faces legal action on genocide-related charges in the International Criminal Court and in an Argentine court.
Reported by Khin Khin Ei, Nandar Chann, and Thant Zin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.