Myanmar recently sent its first report to the International Court of Justice on the steps it’s taking to protect the Rohingya. The report isn’t public, but Rohingya activists and rights advocates say ongoing violence and human rights abuses show Myanmar hasn’t complied with the court’s orders.
Rights advocates and ethnic Rohingya activists say Myanmar is failing to comply with orders from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to take steps to protect the Muslim minority from ongoing genocide.
On May 23, Myanmar submitted its first report to the ICJ outlining how the government and military are complying with the court’s orders to prevent genocide and preserve evidence. The court issued the orders in January after the first hearings in the case brought by The Gambia charging Myanmar with genocide, as the case could take years to resolve.
Though the report is not yet public, ALTSEAN Burma (the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma) and other groups claim Myanmar has done little to end violence against ethnic minorities, prevent discrimination or stop hate speech and violence.
Following the ICJ hearing, there have been at least five cases in which Rohingya civilians were killed by the Myanmar military or in fighting between the military and ethnic armed group the Arakan Army (AA).
In an op-ed in Frontier Myanmar, three Rohingya youth leaders—Zahidullah, Shohid and Abdullah Zubair—say Myanmar hasn’t changed its course since the ICJ hearing in January.
“If we had an opportunity to respond to Myanmar’s report, the following is what we would say.
In the four months since the ICJ issued the provisional measures ruling, our lives in Bangladesh and Myanmar have become worse,” the three wrote. They say that Rohingya groups have documented at least 54 cases of rights abuses against Rohingya in Rakhine between January and May.
President Win Myint issues orders as war in Rakhine continues
Myanmar President Win Myint issued three directives in response to the ICJ’s orders: one telling the military not to commit genocide, one telling the military not to destory evidence and another condemning hate speech. But critics say the government and military have done little to implement or enforce the directives. Continued allegations of human rights abuses against the military indicate the president’s actions have had minimal effect.
According to ALTSEAN Burma, there have been at least 410 armed clashes in civilian areas across Myanmar since late January including direct attacks on civilians in Rakhine State, where the genocide against the Rohingya took place before pushing them into Bangladesh.
The government has continued to enforce and expand internet blackouts in Rakhine and Chin states since June 2019, preventing local communities in active violent conflict zones from communicating with the outside world.
Since November 2018, the Myanmar military has fought an escalating campaign in Rakhine and Chin states against the AA, which the government has now designated a terrorist group. The conflict has led to high-profile acts of torture as well as the killing of a WHO employee, attacks on World Food Programme convoys and shelling of civilian homes.
Both sides have accused one another of burning villages, abducting and killing civilians in May alone. While the Myanmar military has announced a ceasefire for the rest of the country, at least in name, to support efforts to address COVID-19, they say it does not apply to Rakhine and Chin.
Ongoing violence makes it unlikely Myanmar could comply with ICJ orders
According to statistics from ALTSEAN Burma, hundreds of civilians have been killed, injured and detained in the past five months, including 74 civilians who were tortured. Over 3,800 civilians have been displaced and over 1,000 houses destroyed, though the real numbers are likely much higher.
These statistics are from the country as a whole—the ICJ case is only concerned with crimes that constitute genocide against the Rohingya. But the violence and displacement is concentrated in Rakhine and it makes it nearly impossible to argue Myanmar is following the ICJ orders: since 2018, the conflict between the AA and the military has displaced hundreds of thousands in Rakhine.
At the same time, Myanmar is pushing ahead with a plan to close IDP camps across the country, including camps in Rakhine housing Rohingya communities. The day before Myanmar submitted its report to the ICJ, the government announced that it will relocate the Kyauktalone IDP camp in Rakhine State’s Kyaukphyu to a more permanent location and provide residents with infrastructure. The camp was set up in 2012 after sectarian violence between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims and is home to about 1,000 people.
The plan to close IDP camps, overseen by Aung San Suu Kyi, would seem to presuppose that the government is taking steps to protect the Rohingya and end the country’s long-running civil wars. The intensifying fighting in Rakhine State and recent criticism of the government’s report to the ICJ suggest this is far from the case.
When journalists or advocates have confirmed cases of rights abuses against Rohingya or other civilians, the military has denied involvement. In late January, Reuters reported that the military had killed two Rohingya women and injured seven other civilians when it shelled Kin Taung in Rakhine. The military blamed the AA for the killing, saying at the time that “AA terrorists committed firing [sic] at Bengali villages with the use of heavy weapons and planting mines.” Weeks later, the military sued Reuters for the report, though it later dropped the case.
Critics suggest that because the military remains committed to continuing its campaign in Rakhine, there is little chance Myanmar could conceivably comply with the ICJ’s orders.
“Since we arrived in Bangladesh, hundreds of international delegations have come to speak to us at the camps,” the group of Rohingya youth leaders wrote in Frontier this week. “They have promised us that, through these international courts, they will work towards justice for the Rohingya people. Maybe they stopped listening when we explained what justice means to us.”