The world court affiliated to the United Nations (UN) has issued a decision ordering Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from genocide. The interim decision by the International Court of Justice deals only with preliminary measures in the case brought by Gambia last November that accuses Myanmar of genocide against its Muslim Rohingya population, a matter that could take years of consideration before a final ruling is issued.

The court’s unanimous decision by its 17-judge panel found that the Rohingya face an on-going threat and that Myanmar must, pending a final decision in the case, act to protect them.

It is an interim judgment that deals a blow to Myanmar’s denials and its urging of the Court to drop the genocide case, denials that came even from the country’s de facto leader and Nobel Peace Laureate Aung San Suu Ki. “The court further takes note of the detailed findings of the fact-finding mission on Myanmar submitted to the Human Rights Council in September 2019 which refer to the risk of violations of the Genocide Convention and in which I quote, it is concluded on reasonable grounds that the Rohingya people remain at serious risk of genocide under the terms of the Genocide Convention,” says President of the ICJ Judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf.

A UN report mandated by the Human Rights Council in Geneva in 2017, accused the Myanmar military of genocide against the Rohingya in Rakhine State, further arguing that the army was responsible for war crimes and crimes against humanity against minorities across the country.

While UN investigators were barred from entering the country they interviewed 875 witnesses who fled, finding that the military was killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children and burning entire villages.

“From all of the foregoing considerations the court concludes that the condition is required by its statute for it to indicate provisional measures are met,” said Justice Yusuf.

The lawsuit launched by Gambia with the backing of the 57 member Organisation for Islamic Cooperation – accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. “Bearing in mind Myanmar’s duty to comply with its obligations under the Genocide Convention, the court considers that with regard to the situation described earlier, Myanmar must, in accordance with its obligations under the Convention, and in relation to the members of the Rohingya group in its territory, take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts within the scope of Article 2 of the Genocide Convention,” continued Justice Yusuf.

More than 730 000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military crackdown in 2017, many forced into crowded camps across the border in Bangladesh. “The Secretary General welcomes the order of the ICJ indicating provisional measures in the case of The Gambia against Myanmar on alleged breaches of the genocide conventions. The SG strongly supports the use of peaceful means to settle international disputes. He further recalls that pursuant to the Charter and to the Statute of the Court, decisions of the Court are binding. He trusts that Myanmar will duly comply with the Courts order. In accordance with the Statutes of the Court, the SG will promptly transmit the notice of the provisional measures ordered by the Court to the Security Council,” said UN Secretary General’s Deputy Spokesperson Farhan Haq.

Despite ICJ rulings being final and binding, countries have occasionally ignored that Hague-based Court that has no formal mechanism to enforce its decisions.