Implications of the Myanmar ICJ and ICC Cases for Non-Rohingya Minorities

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed authored by GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

(Editors Note: This article is the fourth and final piece of a special Just Security forum on the ongoing Gambia v. Myanmar litigation at the International Court of Justice and ways forward.)

As my colleagues Param-Preet Singh and Nadira Kourt laid out in the first two pieces of this forum, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case concerning Myanmar’s genocide of the Rohingya presents opportunities for Myanmar to finally dismantle the root causes of its longstanding persecution of Rohingya people and the international community to live up to its promise of “Never Again.” In this final forum article, I look at what all the recent international attention paid to Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya means for other ethnic minorities that have suffered atrocities at the hands of Myanmar’s military (the Tatmadaw).

In some ways, international attention on the experiences of other ethnic groups in Myanmar is currently at a zenith. The intensifying conflict between the Tatmadaw and the Arakan Army – an armed group seeking increased autonomy for the multi-ethnic peoples in Rakhine state (referred to by the Arakan Army as “Arakan” state) – and the recent announcement of new military clearance operations by the Tatmadaw in ethnic Rakhine regions, have brought condemnation from American, Australian, British, and Canadian embassies in Myanmar.

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Myanmar’s Protection Bill falls Short of Addressing Violence against Women

Excerpt of Inter Press Service article that quotes GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

A legislation that aims to protect women against violence in Myanmar, while long overdue, is raising concern among human rights advocates about its inadequate definition of rape, vague definition for “consent”, and anti-lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender rhetoric.

Myanmar is soon to see the latest version of its Prevention of and Protection from Violence Against Women (PoVAW) introduced in parliament. But the Global Justice Centre (GJC), an international human rights and humanitarian law organisation focusing on advancing gender equality, has pointed out that the legislation falls short of addressing violence against women.

According to GJC, the language used in the law borrows from Myanmar’s 1861 Penal Code and thus perpetuates antiquated understandings of rape, such as; considering rape as violence committed only by men, the definition of “rape” constituting only of vaginal penetration, and no acknowledgement of marital rape.

“The Myanmar government has long shown a lack of commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for widespread sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that is exacerbated by broader structural barriers with respect to Myanmar’s military justice system, and a lack of robust domestic options for accountability,” the GJC analysis has claimed.

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Myanmar and the ICJ: Ways Forward

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed authored by GJC Legal Director Grant Shubin.

(Editors Note: This article introduces a special Just Security forum on the ongoing Gambia v. Myanmar litigation at the International Court of Justice and ways forward.)

In August 2017, Myanmar’s military carried out a brutal campaign of murder, rape and other abuses against the country’s Rohingya Muslims. These so-called “clearance operations” forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh and constituted a range of international crimes. While the ferocity of this violence may have been new, the commission of acts of oppression and violence against the Rohingya is not. Indeed, as many have pointed out (see e.g. here and here), the Rohingya have been targeted by the government of Myanmar for decades.

For years, Myanmar evaded direct accountability, as the best the international community could muster in the face of these atrocities were condemnations in the United Nations Human Rights Council and General Assembly. However, in November 2019, Gambia filed an application before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging that the violence committed by the Myanmar government against the Rohingya violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

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Q&A: The International Criminal Court Investigation into the Situation in Bangladesh/Myanmar

On 14 November 2019, the International Criminal Court (“ICC” or “the Court”) authorized the Court’s Prosecutor to investigate alleged international crimes occurring during a wave of violence in Rakhine State, Myanmar in 2016 and 2017. The investigation follows a brutal campaign of violence by Myanmar’s security forces against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims. These so-called “clearance operations” were conducted through widespread and systematic murder, rape and sexual violence, and other abuses that forced more than 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.

The ICC Prosecutor’s investigation, and any prosecutions that result, is one process among many aimed at accountability for crimes committed by Myanmar’s security forces (Tatmadaw). While somewhat limited in scope, the investigation carries the potential to hold individuals responsible for grave violations against the Rohingya and other ethnic minorities.

This fact sheet answers fundamental questions about the ongoing ICC investigation and individual criminal responsibility for crimes committed against the Rohingya.

 
   

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Myanmar’s Proposed Prevention Of Violence Against Women Law - A Failure to Meet International Human Rights Standards

The introduction of the Prevention of Violence against Women Law (PoVAW) in Myanmar is an important opportunity for Myanmar to at long last ensure a comprehensive framework for addressing sexual and gender- based violence, bring its domestic laws in line with international obligations, and ensure adequate redress for violence to all women. This requires, however, that Myanmar passes and implements the law in accordance with the highest standards possible; some standards are not discretionary but rather firm commitments Myanmar is required to uphold, including under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Geneva Conventions, and customary international law. Myanmar’s obligation to protect all women from violence is governed by the legal principle of “due diligence,” meaning that the Myanmar government is responsible for taking measures to prevent, investigate, prosecute, punish, and provide reparations for all acts of gender-based violence committed by both private and public officials.

The Myanmar government has long shown a lack of commitment to breaking the cycle of impunity for widespread sexual and gender-based violence, a problem that is exacerbated by broader structural barriers with respect to Myanmar’s military justice system, and a lack of robust domestic options for accountability. Recently, Myanmar has rejected any responsibility for sexual and gender-based violence in its Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) report, engagement with the case filed by The Gambia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), nor CEDAW review. The introduction of this law also comes at a critical time of renewed conversations regarding justice and accountability, with specific respect to the crimes committed against the Rohingya, via processes at the ICJ, the International Criminal Court (ICC), and domestic courts in third party states under the theory of universal jurisdiction.

It is imperative that any efforts to draft and pass a new law take meaningful steps towards addressing sexual and gender-based violence. Myanmar has also received consistent recommendations from the CEDAW Committee, United Nations (UN) Secretary-General, and Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar to ensure the new law complies with international standards; however, this version of the law patently does not meet those standards.

 
   

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Myanmar - UPR Submission to the UN Human Rights Council

I. Introduction

The Government of Myanmar (the “Government”) is obligated in its third cycle Universal Periodic Review (“UPR”) to provide detailed information on how it has implemented recommendations on human rights protections made during its second cycle UPR in 2015, as well on developments in human rights in Myanmar since 2015. With respect to progress regarding justice & accountability for mass atrocities, legal reform, including with respect to women’s rights, and ending discrimination, the Government has on the whole failed to make meaningful progress on recommendations from the previous UPR. In addition to the lack of progress on key issues that were the subject of concern during the last UPR, the human rights situation in Myanmar has largely regressed, not the least as a result of the genocidal targeting of the Rohingya in so-called “clearance operations” in 2016 and 2017.

The analysis below explains were the Government has not met its international obligations germane to the UPR and previously accepted UPR recommendations. It includes specific recommendations to the Government on meeting its international obligations to prevent and provide justice for mass atrocities in Myanmar, especially sexual and gender-based violence, and to eliminate discriminatory laws and policies.

 
   

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Myanmar made “no progress” in resolving plight of Rakhine Muslims, Yanghee Lee says

Excerpt of article from Myanmar Times that mentions GJC.

Former special UN Rapporteur Yanghee Lee said Myanmar did not make any progress in improving the plight of the northern Rakhine Muslims.

“Sadly, no progress at all,” she said on May 22 in a webinar organised by the Global Justice Center, ahead of the May 23 deadline for Myanmar to submit a report on the International Court of Justice (ICJ) about measures that were taken to stop alleged genocide of northern Rakhine Muslims.

Lee only concluded her mandate as the Special Rapporteur two weeks ago. 

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Myanmar to Report to World Court on Compliance with Order to Prevent Genocide

NEW YORK — Myanmar will submit its first report to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on its compliance with an order to prevent and not commit genocide against the Rohingya this Saturday. The reporting obligations are one of the “provisional measures” issued by the ICJ in January.

Myanmar is required to report to the ICJ on “all measures taken to give effect” to the Order, including to prevent genocidal acts, ensure its military and police forces do not commit genocidal acts, and preserve all potential evidence of genocidal acts. The first report must be submitted by May 23, 2020, four months after the provisional measures order, while subsequent reports will be due every six months. The ICJ does not require the report be made public.

“The reporting requirement was a critical component of the ICJ’s historic order to protect the Rohingya from genocide. Having specifically recognized that the Rohingya remain extremely vulnerable, the periodic reports will allow the Court to monitor Myanmar’s actions related to the Rohingya in real time as the case proceeds,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “Unfortunately, the response since then from Myanmar’s government has been deeply flawed at worst, and superficial at best.”

On April 8, Myanmar issued “presidential directives” to all government officials, requesting they ensure acts prohibited by Article II of the Genocide Convention are not committed — and that evidence of those acts are not destroyed. A later directive asked officials to denounce and prevent hate speech. The directives — which represent the only substantive response from Myanmar since the January ICJ order — include no clear guidelines for implementation and monitoring, and do not touch on the key issues of structural discrimination that need to be addressed in order to meaningfully give effect to the order. Deeper analysis of Myanmar’s actions since the ICJ order can be found in our Q&A.

“Myanmar’s Generals ordered the atrocities, bulldozed and buried evidence of their crimes, and are the reason why Aung San Suu Kyi’s name will now forever be associated with genocide and injustice,” said Dr. Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect. “Until Myanmar’s discriminatory laws are abolished and the perpetrators of the genocide are held accountable, the threat of further atrocities remains.”

The ICJ provisional measures: Is Myanmar protecting the Rohingya from genocide?

Description:
On 23 January 2020, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) issued provisional measures ordering Myanmar to take certain actions to protect the Rohingya from genocide and preserve evidence of genocidal acts. Recognizing the extraordinary urgency and importance of the measures ordered, the ICJ asked Myanmar to submit a report on its compliance with the order on 23 May and then every 6 months thereafter until the case is decided. While Myanmar has taken some steps since the ICJ’s January order, none touch on the long-standing structural discrimination against the Rohingya or provide a basis for safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation. Even against a backdrop of escalating conflict in Rakhine State and a global pandemic, there is much more Myanmar could do to protect the Rohingya. With Myanmar’s first report to the court due on 23 May, this Webinar will analyze the current situation in the country and explore concrete ways the authorities could effectively comply with the ICJ’s order.

Moderators:
Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Speakers: 
Yanghee Lee,
former UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar
Laetitia Van Den Assum,Independent diplomatic expert, former member of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State chaired by Kofi Annan, and former ambassador of The Netherlands to the United Kingdom, Mexico, Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, and Southeast Asia
Wai Wai Nu,Founder and Director, Women’s Peace Network

(Updated) Q&A: The Gambia v. Myanmar – Rohingya Genocide at The International Court of Justice

On 11 November 2019, the Republic of The Gambia filed suit against the Republic of the Union of Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (“ICJ”) for violating the Genocide Convention. Two months later at the request of The Gambia, the ICJ ordered the government of Myanmar to take certain actions to protect the Rohingya via “provisional measures” while the case proceeds. This historic lawsuit brings a critical focus to Myanmar’s responsibility as a state for the Rohingya genocide.

The Gambia’s case focuses on the actions of Myanmar’s security forces, starting in October 2016 and then again in August 2017, where they engaged in so-called “clearance operations” against the Rohingya, a distinct Muslim ethnic minority, in Rakhine State. The operations, in particular those that started in August 2017, were characterized by brutal violence and serious human rights violations on a mass scale. Survivors report indiscriminate killings, rape and sexual violence, arbitrary detention, torture, beatings, and forced displacement. As a result, an estimated 745,000 people – mostly ethnic Rohingya – were forced to flee to Bangladesh. The “clearance operations” followed decades of institutionalized discrimination and systematic persecution of the Rohingya, including the passage of laws that stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and restricted their religious freedoms, as well as reproductive and marital rights.

According to the UN Human Rights Council-mandated Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (“FFM”), the treatment of the Rohingya population during the “clearance operations” amounts to genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, the commission of which evoke specific obligations and responsibility under international law. In its final report, published in September 2019, the FFM concluded that “the State of Myanmar breached its obligation not to commit genocide” and found that Myanmar “continues to harbor genocidal intent” towards the Rohingya, emphasizing the need for accountability.

This fact sheet answers fundamental questions about the ongoing ICJ case, Myanmar’s responsibility for genocide, and its impact on the Rohingya population. (Answers to questions about the early stages of the lawsuit are here.)

 
   

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Bangladesh: End Internet Blackout to Protect Public Health of Rohingya Refugees and Host Communities

(BANGKOK, April 2, 2020)—The Government of Bangladesh should immediately take all necessary steps to protect Rohingya refugees and nearby host communities in Cox’s Bazar District from COVID-19 infection, said Fortify Rights and 49 human rights organizations in an open letter today. The authorities should immediately lift all restrictions that prevent Rohingya refugees from freely accessing mobile communications and the internet and also halt the construction of fencing aimed to confine Rohingya refugees in camps.

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Joint letter re: restrictions on communication, fencing and COVID-19 in Cox's Bazar District Rohingya refugee camps

Dear Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina,

As authorities around the world struggle to cope with the spread of COVID-19, it is crucial that States act to protect the most vulnerable, including refugee populations.

We, the 50 undersigned organizations, have welcomed the Bangladesh government’s efforts to host the Rohingya refugees who were forced to flee atrocities perpetrated by the Myanmar Army. We also commend the Bangladesh Government for working closely with the humanitarian community on COVID-19 preparedness and response in Cox’s Bazar District, including efforts to establish isolation and treatment facilities.

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UN Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Releases Final Report

NEW YORK – Yanghee Lee, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, released an advance version of her final report today. Lee was appointed by the UN Human Rights Council in 2014.

Grant Shubin, legal director of the Global Justice Center, had the following response:

“Special Rapporteur Lee has been a stalwart advocate for human rights and justice in Myanmar throughout her entire tenure. As expected, her final report conveys the gravity of the situation in Myanmar as well as the urgency of domestic and international action.”

“Backed up by years of investigation and documentation, Lee’s report recognizes that international action, whether at the International Criminal Court or the International Court of Justice, is critical to reversing the scourge of genocide and other grave crimes in the country. We hope the international community heeds her words. They’re more important now than ever.”

Jacob Blaustein Institute Panel on UN Secretary-General Prevention Agenda

GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan spoke at this event hosted by the  Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights .

Panelists:
Mr. Volker Türk, Assistant Secretary-General for Strategic Coordination 
Mr. Ben Majekodunmi, Chief of Equality, Development and Rights Section, OHCHR
Ms. Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center

Opening remarks by Ms. Danica Damplo, Universal Rights Group NYC

 

Letter to UN Security Council members regarding Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry and the Provisional Measures ordered by the International Court of Justice

Your Excellency,

We are writing to you in light of the recently published summary of the final report of Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE), which was issued the same week that the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordered Myanmar to take immediate action to prevent genocide against the country’s persecuted Rohingya minority. In particular, we would like to raise grave concerns regarding the ICOE’s: (1) independence and impartiality; (2) methodology; and (3) flaws in narrative and findings.

The ICOE’s independence and impartiality have been seriously undermined by its reliance on the Office of the President of Myanmar for financial and technical support, as well as by the composition of the Commission itself, which includes at least one official directly implicated in the bulldozing of Rohingya villages damaged during the 2017 crisis in Rakhine State. The executive summary of the ICOE’s report also provides no information as to what sources and materials were relied upon beyond individual interviews, nor how the ICOE corroborated and verified this information, making it impossible to assess the quality of their methodology. Crucially, the ICOE did not interview a single Rohingya refugee in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, regarding the circumstances that resulted in over 700,000 people fleeing the country. Finally, there are serious flaws and misrepresentations in the ICOE’s narrative of the crisis in Rakhine State, including disturbing inaccuracies and omissions in relation to mass rape and widespread sexual violence directed at Rohingya women and girls during the military’s so-called “clearance operations.”

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Behind Myanmar’s Military Alibi: A Path for Compliance with the ICJ’s Order to Protect Rohingya

Excerpt of Just Security op-ed by GJC's Akila Radhakrishnan and Grant Shubin.

In the wake of the ruling from the International Court of Justice (ICJ) ordering Myanmar to prevent genocide against the Rohingya going forward, the initial excitement was tempered by pragmatics—how this important court order can be enforced so that it actually protects the 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Rakhine State.

To be sure, there is no confusion that these measures are binding—as the court noted, they create international legal obligations that require Myanmar’s compliance. But how can the international community guarantee that Myanmar actually does anything? And does Myanmar’s civilian government have the capacity to do what is needed?

The answers to these questions are mixed, generally relying on exertion of geopolitical pressure, including through the United Nations Security Council, to which the order has been transmitted. As a general rule and absent a concrete enforcement mechanism, ICJ orders have a reliable compliance rate. However, looking at the Myanmar case in context, and in particular the measures requiring prevention of the commission of genocide by Myanmar’s military, compliance will require a serious and concerted effort by both the international community and the civilian government.

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Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry: Structural Issues and Flawed Findings

On January 20, 2020, Myanmar’s Independent Commission of Enquiry (“ICOE”) submitted its final report to Myanmar’s government. The report, which was initially due on July 30, 2019, was instead submitted three days before the International Court of Justice handed down its unanimous decision on provisional measures in The Gambia v. Myanmar. With the mandate to “investigate the allegations of human rights violations and related issues, following the terrorist attacks by ARSA,” Myanmar has relied on the work of the ICOE since its creation to object to international efforts, including those of the UN Security Council, to ensure accountability for the crimes against the Rohingya.

The ICOE is not the first, but the eighth ad-hoc commission and board set up by Myanmar since 2012 with regard to the situation in Rakhine State; however, the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar has determined that none of these commissions, including the ICOE, meet the standards of an “impartial, independent, effective and thorough human rights investigation.” This Factsheet seeks to provide context and analysis on the ICOE and its final report and can be used by the international community to understand the report and its analysis.

 
   

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Myanmar’s Commission Report Delivers Genocide Denial Playbook

Excerpt of Just Security article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

As Akila Radhakrishnan of the Global Justice Center put it, the ICoE summary is a “masterclass in how to erase the gendered experiences of conflict and genocide.” While the FFM had described “rape and other forms of sexual violence [as] one of the hallmarks of Tatmadaw (Myanmar military) operations,” the ICoE concluded:

“There were no credible statements on allegations of gang rape committed by Myanmar’s security forces. Although some interviewees mentioned rape cases, these were all secondhand information heard from someone else.”

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U.N. Court’s Order on Rohingya Is Cheered, but Will Myanmar Comply?

Excerpt of New York Times article that features GJC President Akila Radhakrishnan.

“The court confirmed that no matter where genocide occurs, it’s a matter for the entire international community, and that a state does not have to be connected or affected by the genocide in order for them to take action to prevent, end and punish it,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the New York-based Global Justice Center.

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