BANGKOK – Rejecting arguments made by Myanmar's civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, the International Court of Justice at The Hague ruled on Thursday that Myanmar must take action to protect Rohingya Muslims, who have been killed and driven from their homes in what the country's accusers call a campaign of genocide.
The court said Myanmar must "take all measures within its power" to prevent its military or others from carrying out genocidal acts against the Rohingya, who it said faced "real and imminent risk." It also essentially put Myanmar under court oversight, telling it to submit regular reports to the tribunal explaining what steps it had taken.
The decision is the first international court ruling against Myanmar over its military's brutal treatment of the Rohingya. While the court has no enforcement power, any member of the United Nations can request action from the Security Council based on its rulings.
"The chances of Aung San Suu Kyi implementing this ruling will be zero unless significant international pressure is applied," said Anna Roberts, executive director of the rights group Burma Campaign UK.
The nation of Gambia brought the case to the tribunal, the United Nations' highest court, in November on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation. Gambia's legal team asked the court to condemn Myanmar for violating the Genocide Convention. A ruling on that question could be years away.
But Gambia also asked the court for more immediate action: a temporary injunction ordering Myanmar to halt all actions that could make the Rohingya's situation worse, including further extrajudicial killings, rape, hate speech or the leveling of homes where Rohingya once lived.
Ruling in Gambia's favor on Thursday, the court did not give Myanmar any specific instructions for ensuring the Rohingya's safety. But it said the country must ensure that they are not subjected to acts of genocide, including killing, causing serious bodily or mental harm, or deliberately imposing conditions meant to bring about the destruction of the Rohingya population.
The court, headed by Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf of Somalia, also ordered Myanmar to report back within four months on what steps it has taken, to preserve evidence relevant to the genocide case, and to submit further reports to the court every six months after that for as long as the case remains open.
Attorneys representing Myanmar and Gambia in The Hague could not immediately be reached for comment. Spokesmen for the military and for Suu Kyi, who was not in court on Thursday, also could not be reached.
In 2017, Myanmar's military waged a brutal assault against the Rohingya in the western state of Rakhine, prompting more than 700,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh, where they now live in squalid conditions in the world's largest refugee camp.
United Nations officials have said the campaign amounted to genocide. Investigators say thousands were killed. Surviving Rohingya have described such atrocities as the murder of children and the gang rape of women and girls by soldiers.
About half a million Rohingya are still in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, including about 100,000 people who were forced from their homes and now live in camps. The Gambia legal team argued that they are in "grave danger" of further genocidal acts.
Suu Kyi, once a human rights icon who received the Nobel Peace Prize, traveled to The Hague in December to speak on Myanmar's behalf at the hearings — essentially, defending the same military that kept her under house arrest for 15 years.