February 21 marked the beginning of preliminary arguments at the International Court of Justice regarding the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in the Rakhine state of Myanmar, according to The Associated Press. Myanmar is currently being represented by military leaders, most of whom came into power after overthrowing the country’s previous leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
According to Al Jazeera, many believe the military leaders of Myanmar, who are responsible for much of the brutality against Rohingya Muslims, should not be representing the country at the ICJ. “This is a shameful double whammy,” said Chris Gunness, Director of the Myanmar Accountability Project. “Myanmar is being represented at the ICJ by people sanctioned for gross human rights abuses and violating the rule of the law.”
Instead, there is a widespread belief that the National Unity Government (NUG) should be Myanmar’s representatives. This government in exile consists of people who worked in the former government and other adversaries to the current military regime. The NUG, however, has rescinded its objections regarding Myanmar’s ICJ representation and is focused on allowing the case to proceed.
In August of 2017, Myanmar military personnel initiated a “clearance campaign” in the Rakhine state. Backed by UN findings, Reuters reports that the campaign resulted in acts of genocide such as gang rapes, large-scale murder, and arson. More than 700,000 Rohingya Muslims evacuated from the Rakhine state to Bangladesh. The Myanmar military claims that their motive was a responce to a hostile Rohingya insurgency.
In 2019, the case was officially brought to the attention of the ICJ by The Gambia, an African nation. According to Al Jazeera, the nation is partnered with the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, an international organization consisting of Muslim-majority countries whose stated purpose is to advocate for Muslims on a global scale. The foundation of Gambia’s case is that the Myanmar government breached the 1948 Genocide Convention by inciting genocide against a specific group. They argued this in court via satellite images, maps, and other aids.
As Al Jazeera notes, Aung San Suu Kyi defended the military’s actions to the ICJ. She said that the circumstances were “complex” and that they were a response to a “militant” Rohingya insurgency. She also testified that the state thoroughly investigated any signs of wrongdoing, especially with civilian offenders. However, a month afterward, the ICJ demanded that Myanmar needed to protect the Rohingya Muslims.
In February 2021, Suu Kyi was overthrown by the military, whom she defended two years prior. She now faces a multitude of charges within Myanmar. The junta is demanding that the case in the ICJ be overturned, on the grounds that The Gambia is acting as a proxy for the OIC and the ICJ’s jurisdiction is only between states, making it an inadmissible case.
According to The Guardian, the military coup was violent and incited unrest within the country. In the year since the junta’s rise to power, there have been many instances of massacres and airstrikes across the country in an attempt to squash any resistance. Leading officials have also noted that the situation for Rohingya Muslims has deteriorated since 2017. Daily acts of intimidation and harsh restrictions on basic needs are commonplace for the remaining community. Specifically, the lack of access to food has left a majority of Rohingyan Muslims close to starvation. Since the coup, public attitudes toward the Rohingya have slowly been shifting as the brutality of the military becomes more widespread, says The Guardian.