On January 23, 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) released orders for Myanmar to protect its minority population of Rohingya Muslims currently subject to genocidal acts, UN News reported.
For years, Myanmar has refused to recognize the validity of the Rohingya people living within their borders. A predominantly Buddhist country, Myanmar views the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic group living primarily in the Rakhine State, as interlopers from Bangladesh.
Unfortunately, Myanmar’s disdain toward the Rohingya does not stop at denying them citizenship. In August 2017, groups made up of Burmese military and civilians responded to an attack by Rohingya militants by gathering to burn Rohingya villages and attacking anyone in their way. BBC News reports that within the first month of the violence more than 6,700 Rohingya, some younger than five years old were murdered.
Now, a little over two years later, the Rohingya remain in Bangladesh as refugees, fearing for their lives. Atrocities committed by Myanmar have driven over 740,000 Rohingya to Bangladesh, unsure of when they will be able to return home, according to Amnesty International.
Approximately 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar, and the UN-appointed investigative panel reported to the Human Rights Council that Myanmar’s government continues to pose a risk to them. UN News quotes Ms. Yanghee Lee, explaining “Myanmar continues to be a State that commits ongoing gross violations of international law.”
As a late response to the atrocities committed against the Rohingya, in November 2019 The Gambia brought a case against Myanmar in front of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the State of committing genocide against the Rohingya. After hearing the case, the ICJ unanimously voted that Myanmar must prevent genocide, Al Jazeera reported.
Human Rights Watch quotes Param-Preet Singh, saying “the ICJ order to Myanmar to take concrete steps to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya is a landmark step to stop further atrocities against one of the world’s most persecuted people.” The ICJ ordering Myanmar to prevent genocide comes with a critical, underlying implication: that genocide is not currently happening.
Even Amnesty International is slow to identify the massacre of the Rohingya as genocide, instead, explaining that Myanmar has committed “likely genocide.” While the word ‘likely’ does not seem like much, this qualifier can change the future narrative. Without explicitly considering this abuse of the Rohingya as a genocide, the responsibility to take care of the issue lies completely with Myanmar. However, Myanmar’s way of taking care of the issue is to continue to persecute the Rohingya.
It cannot be expected that such action will be taken by Myanmar following the ICJ decision. Aljazeera reports that while defending Myanmar, former Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi not only vehemently denied accusations of genocide, but she also failed to use the term ‘Rohingya’. Instead, she would refer only to Rakhine and whether these atrocities were actually occurring there. Despite the intervention of the international community about the mistreatment of the minority group, Myanmar refused to acknowledge the Rohingya as a valid group.
Ultimately, even after the ICJ decision, there is much to be done before the Rohingya will be secure. While Myanmar continues to deny their rights, they remain stateless people.