Following Thursday’s ruling by the U.N.’s top court that ordered Myanmar to protect Rohingya Muslims from genocidal acts, the country’s ruling National League for Democracy (NLD) party said that the government need not implement special measures.
The ICJ’s ruling lists four points in its provisional measures, mandating that Myanmar must 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 ICJ issues a final decision on the case.
NLD party officials have said the ruling favors what they call a biased report from the U.N.'s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) on Myanmar while ignoring evidence submitted by the Myanmar government.
The FFM's final report issued in September 2019 found signs of genocidal intent in a 2017 military-led crackdown on Rohingya communities in Myanmar's northern Rakine state, and presented critical evidence that government security forces committed atrocities and serious crimes under international law.
NLD spokesman Myo Nyunt told RFA’s Myanmar Service how the party is interpreting the ICJ's ruling.
“I understand that we don’t have to implement any special measures,” he said.
“The government said the military will cooperate in the investigations. The requirement is to submit reports on the situation once every four months or six months. That’s how we understand the ruling,” the spokesman added, referring to the court’s order that Myanmar report on steps it is taking to comply with the ICJ’s decision in four months’ time.
The comments by Myo Nyunt however, do not necessarily represent the views of Aung Sung Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto head of government.
Shortly after the court issued its decision, Myanmar’s government issued a statement taking issue with the legally binding ruling, saying the ICJ must still reach a “factually correct” finding on the charges that genocide occurred in northern Rakhine state, but did not state whether it would comply with the ruling.
An official from Myanmar’s Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), which is independent of the NLD but shares similar goals, said that the ruling was acceptable.
“This decision does not confirm genocide. It is not like we are admitting that genocide happened,” said Ngwe Lin, a central committee member of the DPNS.
“It is more like an order to prevent genocide. I think it is acceptable. I think this is not a very bad demand,” he said.
Myanmar’s military told RFA that it is waiting on the government to make a decision on the ruling.
“Myanmar is a sovereign state, and the government will act on this issue according to existing laws,” said military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun.
“The military will follow [the course of] action the government [decides on],” he added.
Mya Aye, a Muslim politician from the Federal Democratic Force, meanwhile told RFA that the resolution of the issue should not be contingent on international pressure.
“The government should approach the issue with democratic and human rights values. We should forget about whether the international community is putting pressure on us or not,” he said.
“This is a problem that exists in our country. We have to resolve it anyway. In the eyes of today’s rapidly changing world, it is barbaric to be so perverse as to keep ignoring international demands,” Mya Aye added.
Rights activists respond
Officials from several rights groups told RFA that the ball is now in the Myanmar government’s court to prove that it deserves the respect of the international community.
“The ICJ ruling’s impact on Myanmar will depend on the government and the military,” Cheery Zahau, an ethnic Chin human rights and women’s rights activist, told RFA.
“It depends on how seriously they are taking the ICJ decision and how seriously they respect human rights and offer protections” she said. “If they keep rejecting [rights] and do whatever they want, it could cause many negative effects [for them]. It could hurt the reputation [of Myanmar] in the international community even more.”
Meanwhile, Aye Lwin, a prominent Muslim community leader and former Kofi Annan Commission member, told RFA, “The Myanmar authorities have announced that they noted the ICJ ruling, so they will keep doing what they are supposed to.”
“The [FFM] report suggested they investigate further,” he said. “Both the Office of the Attorney General and the Office of the Commander-in-Chief have said they will keep investigating and will take action against violators.”
Aung Htoo, a Sweden-based human rights attorney, drew similarities between Myanmar and Yugoslavia.
“In the case where Bosnia and Herzegovina filed lawsuits against the former Yugoslavia, the ICJ made the ruling, and the accused party didn’t comply,” Aung Htoo told RFA.
“So, Bosnia and Herzegovina requested another provisional measure to send in U.N. troops, which actually happened,” he said. “If Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s military are still headstrong and refuse to comply, Gambia might request another provisional measure to take a similar action.”
Aung Htoo added that Myanmar needs to reform its citizenship laws, stop killings and persecutions, and reverse the policies that limit the rights of Rohingya in Myanmar.
Many rights groups have condemned Myanmar over its handling of the 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya and have produced credible reports based on testimony of the brutality, satellite images of burned villages, and other evidence of atrocities.
Besides documenting the violence, the U.N. FFM's report said that the roughly 600,000 Rohingya still living in Myanmar could face an even “greater threat of genocide.”
Myanmar’s civilian-led government has dismissed the accusations, saying that its security forces were conducting a clearance operation to rid the region of Rohingya militants who carried out deadly attacks on police outposts.
Reported by Kyaw Lwin Oo for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.