A victory has been handed to the oppressed Rohingya ethnic minority of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma. The International Court of Justice, the United Nations’ top judicial body, has rendered a decision that opens the path for Myanmar to legally have to answer for alleged crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated on the Rohingya.
The ICJ rejected Myanmar’s preliminary objections to the case brought because of the country’s mistreatment of its Muslim Rohingya minority.
The July 22 ruling is seen as bringing a measure of hope to the beleaguered Rohingya and other marginalized groups in the country.
“I think there’s positives for the Rohingya people to get justice,” said Abdul-Jabbar, a Rohingya case worker with the Rohingya Cultural Center in Chicago.
“We have a very big hope that the ICJ will be taking action,” he told The Final Call.
The decision was lauded by rights groups. The Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect welcomed the decision, albeit with caution. “The Global Centre looks forward to the next stages of the case,” said Savita Pawnday, Centre executive director, in a statement.
While the ICJ’s decision is a positive development, the road to justice and any reconciliation for the Rohingya is long. “As the case goes forward, it is essential that the ICJ centers the voices and perspectives of the Rohingya in its proceedings,” Ms. Pawnday said.
Upholding the responsibility to protect people from genocide, war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing requires justice and accountability, her statement read.
Nicholas Koumjian, head of the UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, said the rejection of Myanmar’s objections is major.
“Not just to the people of Myanmar, but also to the development of international law and to defining the obligation of states that have signed the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide,” said Mr. Koumijian.
Using the Genocide Convention, charges were brought to the ICJ by the West African nation of Gambia in 2019 with the support of the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The Gambia charged that crimes against the Rohingya in Rakhine State violated international laws against genocide. Myanmar, ruled by a military junta that seized power in 2021, argued that Gambia had no standing to bring the suit.
Now ICJ can proceed, say advocates of justice for the Rohingya.
The objections raised by Myanmar were seen as an overt attempt to block and delay justice and possible reconciliation for the Rohingya. The objections were also an attempt to escape accountability for human rights violations and genocide.
The objections reflected an effort to maintain a “culture of impunity” that has persisted in Myanmar for decades, argued observers.
The military has continued to “use hostile and derogatory language to threaten and marginalize” the mostly Muslim Rohingya in Rakhine state.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya were forced to flee to Bangladesh in 2017. Judges who will decide the case need the best evidence available to determine the facts of what happened and the current situation in Rakhine state.
“Now, almost five years after the mass exodus of Rohingya from Rakhine state in 2017, hundreds of thousands remain living as refugees, and many place great hope in these ICJ proceedings,” said Mr. Koumijian.
Myanmar fought to dismiss the ICJ case previously when Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, then its de-facto leader, defended the country at The Hague.
Her defense elicited condemnation from international human rights activists and former allies.
The Southeast Asia country has undergone bouts of insecurity, upheaval, civil war, military coups, mass displacement, extrajudicial killings, and alleged genocide.
Myanmar has been mired in violence and civil unrest since the 2021 overthrow of the government of Ms. Suu Kyi. It triggered widespread protests quelled by the military with lethal force. The anti-coup opposition has since turned into armed resistance, and the country has degenerated into what experts call a civil war.
Myanmar recognizes over 100 ethnic minorities, that rights organizations say are ill-treated. The 1.3 million Rohingyas are treated worst of all: they are denied official minority status and the citizenship rights that go with it. A cursory glance of the problem points to xenophobia directed at Muslim Rohingyas in predominately Buddhist Myanmar.
As a targeted ethnic minority within a country in constant flux, the Rohingya have been persecuted, marginalized, exiled as stateless refugees, and scattered throughout Southeast Asia.
“My family members are present in Burma,” Abdul-Jabbar said. “The situation is still the same … nothing changed.”
He lamented how things on the ground keep deteriorating due to the military leadership. There is more and more suffering with the world not paying attention and media is focused on war in Eastern Europe, he added.
“People are still dying,” said Abdul-Jabbar.
The ICJ ruling came days before the military government’s July 25 announcement that it executed four high-profile activists and anti-junta leaders. News of the killings reverberated worldwide as these were the first executions in the country by the Tatmadaw, the popular name of the military, since 1990.
The men put to death were Phyo Zeya Thaw, 41; Kyaw Min Yu, known as “Ko Jimmy,” 53; Hla Myo Aung; and Aung Thura Zaw. They were convicted in closed trials critics say fell far short of international standards.
A military tribunal sentenced Ko Jimmy and Mr. Thaw to death in January under Myanmar’s counterterrorism laws.
Hla Myo Aung and Aung Thura Zaw were convicted in April 2021 for allegedly killing a military informant. Outrage over the executions was expressed by pro-democracy advocates, leaders, human rights organizations, and activists.
“If the military is allowed to get away with 4 state executions, they will continue to execute other political prisoners on death row, who have been wrongfully accused and sentenced without a fair judicial process,” tweeted Wai Hnin Pwint Thon, human rights activist with Burma Campaign UK.
“Effective action would be more valuable than condolence statements,” she tweeted July 26.
Abdul-Jabbar believes the executions were a response against popular support for the National League for Democracy, which the regime ousted last year.
The international community, the U.S. and UN must take strong action against the junta, Abdul-Jabbar said. He also acknowledged sanctions no longer work and only hurt already suffering people. Ironically, while there are calls for a response to the latest action by the military regime, many of these same groups and Aung San Suu Kyi, seen as a global defender of democracy and freedom, were largely silent against the horrors and war inflicted on the Rohingya.
Still the cry for change in Myanmar is part of a wider global cry for justice in the world. The Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam described it as a “Universal Cry for Justice,” and warned all tyrants will be removed today by God Himself.
“We, in the Nation of Islam, love Muslims wherever they are on the earth, and we cry out for the whole of humanity,” said Minister Farrakhan during April 2021 remarks on an international Islamic prayer line. Minister Farrakhan called on the Muslim World to speak up on Myanmar and other places where Muslims suffer. His remarks came several weeks after the military coup.
“We pray for the Muslims in Myanmar. We pray for the Uyghur Muslims in China. We pray for those who are suffering throughout our World of Islam,” said Minister Farrakhan.
The Muslim leader exhorted the Muslim World to “rise up with strength” from “our capital of Islam” in the Holy City of Mecca in Arabia.
“Why should Muslims suffer in China, and we not go to China and speak on their behalf? Why should Muslims suffer in Myanmar, and we don’t send representatives from the Holy City of Mecca to plead for them?” he asked.
“We are powerful all over the world so Muslims should not suffer anywhere without our leadership in Mecca and beyond looking out for the least of the Muslims who are suffering,” said Minister Farrakhan.
“We pray for them. But we do more than pray for them, we look after them. Myanmar formerly known as Burma is a country. We are a world. China is a country, but we are a world,” said Minister Farrakhan in his message over the annual Ramadan Prayerline, created and staffed by Muslims in the Nation of Islam.
He said the world of Islam should not allow Believers to suffer anywhere and Muslims should speak against any government persecuting a Believer in Allah (God).
The upheaval in Myanmar comes amid a time of universal change. Minister Farrakhan, echoing warnings from his teacher, the Most Honorable Elijah Muhammad, has told world governments that it’s time to reap as they have sown. Governments and leaders are in a day of decision to choose to change or remain repressive, destructive, unjust and face destruction from God Himself, he warned.
—Brian E. Muhammad, Staff Writer