The International Court of Justice on Thursday ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide.
Rohingya refugees celebrated the ruling as their first major legal victory since being forced from their homes.
The African nation of The Gambia launched legal action against Myanmar in November. Its lawsuit accuses Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya in violation of a 1948 convention.
The court’s final decision could take years. Thursday’s ruling dealt only with The Gambia’s request for early measures. But in a ruling agreed to by all of the judges involved, the court said the Rohingya face a continued threat and Myanmar must act to protect them.
The lead judge on the case said Myanmar must “take all measures within its power to prevent all acts” barred under the 1948 Genocide Convention. The country also must report back on its efforts within four months, he said.
Myanmar must use its influence over its military and other armed groups to prevent violence against the Rohingya meant to “bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part.”
Rohingya activists had come from all over the world to The Hague. They reacted happily to the ruling, which also fully recognized their ethnic minority as a protected group under the Genocide Convention.
Yasmin Ullah is a Canada-based Rohingya activist. She said of the ruling, “That is something we have been fighting for a long time: to be recognized as humans the same as everyone else.”
Myanmar, which has a large Buddhist population, generally refuses to recognize the Muslim Rohingya as an ethnic group. Instead, it describes them as Bangladeshi migrants.
More than 730,000 Rohingya left Myanmar after a military-led campaign against them in 2017. They were forced into crowded, dirty camps across the border in Bangladesh.
U.N. investigators found that the military campaign had been carried out for “genocidal” reasons.
From the camps in Bangladesh where they have fled, Rohingya refugees watched the judgment on their mobile phones.
“For the first time, we have got some justice,” said Mohammed Nur, a 34-year-old refugee. “This is a big achievement for the entire Rohingya community.”
Rohingya still living inside Myanmar and reached by phone said they hoped the ruling would force the country to improve their situation. “We need protection,” said Tin Aung, a Rohingya leader living in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.
A Myanmar government spokesman and two military spokesmen did not answer calls from Reuters reporters seeking comment.
The Gambia’s justice minister, Abubacarr Tambadou, called the ruling “a triumph for international justice.”
The Gambia has a mainly Muslim population. It brought the case on the argument that all nations have a universal legal responsibility to prevent genocide.
The case was argued last month by some of the world’s top human rights lawyers. Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended hearings at The Hague to ask judges to dismiss the case.
Shortly before the court began reading its ruling, the Financial Times published an article by Suu Kyi. She wrote that some war crimes may have been carried out against Rohingya Muslims but that refugees had exaggerated abuses.
Myanmar will now have to report on its efforts to protect the Rohingya from genocide every six months until a final ruling in the case.
Although ICJ rulings are final and binding, countries have sometimes ignore them. The court has no official way to enforce its rulings.
I’m Caty Weaver.
The Reuters news agency reported this story. Ashley Thompson adapted it for VOA Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.
Words in This Story
convention - n. a formal agreement between two groups (such as countries or political organizations)
achievement - n. something that has been done or achieved through effort : a result of hard work
triumph - n. a great or important victory
exaggerate - v. to think of or describe something as larger or greater than it really is
binding - adj. forcing or requiring someone to do something because of a promise, agreement, etc.