The International Court of Justice has rejected Myanmar’s objections to a case about the Southeast Asian nation’s alleged ill-treatment of Muslim Rohingya minorities, paving the way for the case to be heard in full.
Officials from the military junta’s administration in Myanmar had argued that Gambia, which had flagged the case in the top UN court, had no standing to do so.
Quashing the objection, presiding judge Joan Donoghue stated on Friday that “Gambia, as a state party to the genocide convention, has standing” as she delivered the summary of the 13-judge panel’s ruling.
The judge pointed out that all states of the ICJ, including Myanmar, which had signed the 1948 Genocide Convention, could and must do everything to prevent genocide.
The court had jurisdiction in the case, she added.
Following the dismissal of Myanmar’s objections, the ICJ will now proceed to hear the merits of the case. The process could take several years.
Gambia became the first and only nation in 2019 to take up the Rohingyas’ cause and file a suit seeking accountability from Myanmar and an end to further bloodshed.
The West African nation was backed by the 57-nation Organisation for Islamic Cooperation.
Gambian justice minister Dawda Jallow welcomed the top global court’s decision and said he was “very happy” with it, adding that he was confident the suit would prevail.
However, a representative for Myanmar said authorities in Yangon would do their “utmost” to protect “national interest” in further proceedings.
At the time of hearing on Friday, demonstrators raised a red banner reading “Free Burma” outside the court’s gates. They also shouted at cars with junta’s representatives exiting the building after the decision.
According to a UN fact-finding mission, Myanmar drove out 730,000 Rohingya from its land into neighbouring Bangladesh in a military campaign in 2017, which saw “genocidal acts”.
Myanmar’s defence and security personnel have been accused of excesses against the community, including mass rapes, arson and killings, forcing them to flee the country.
The report was rejected by Yangon authorities, who termed the findings as “biased and flawed”. Myanmar also defended the crackdown and said that its forces were aiming at Rohingya rebels who had carried out attacks.
Additional reporting by agencies