The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has announced that it will next week deliver its judgement on Myanmar’s objections to a case accusing it of genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority group.
In a statement issued on Monday, the ICJ said that a public sitting of the court will take place at the Peace Palace in The Hague at 3 p.m. on July 22. Judge Joan E. Donoghue, president of the ICJ, will read out the court’s decision.
The genocide case was brought by the government of The Gambia following the Myanmar military’s fierce assaults on the Rohingya communities of Rakhine State in late 2017, which drove more than 700,000 terrified civilians across the border into Bangladesh. United Nations researchers later asserted that the military’s assaults, which included the killing of civilians and the torching of their villages, were potentially “genocidal” in nature. A similar determination has since been made by the United States government.
The preliminary objections were filed by Myanmar’s civilian government just before it was overthrown in a military coup in February 2021, and argue that the court does not have the jurisdiction to hear the case. Among other things, Myanmar is attempting to have the case thrown out on the grounds that that The Gambia was acting as a proxy for the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, and that the court can only hear cases between nations.
During hearings in February, a lawyer for The Gambia called on the judges to “reject Myanmar’s meritless preliminary objections and proceed to adjudicate the merits of this dispute.”
As it happens, the merits of the case have been clouded by the political struggle that has unfolded in Myanmar since the military coup, particularly, the question of who has the right to represent Myanmar at the hearings. While the military junta assumed the right to represent Myanmar at the ICJ, the opposition National Unity Government (NUG) asserts that it is the legitimate representative of the country. To this end, in January, the NUG officially recognized the ICJ’s jurisdiction, pledged to withdraw all of the preliminary objections, and promised to cooperate with the proceedings.
The outcome of the case, and the objections to it, are also nested within the more fundamental question of what impact the court’s ruling will have, one way or the other.
It is hopefully not too churlish to point out that the ICJ has no real way of enforcing its ruling on the Myanmar military, should it be found guilty. Being convicted of genocide would no doubt carry severe reputational costs, but most of the nations for whom this would carry the most weight have already spurned the military junta, if not waged a campaign of economic sanctions against it. Indeed, a number of nations have already declared that the military is guilty of genocide.
Whatever the court rules, it would require a truly remarkable chain of events for Senior Gen. Min Aung Hlaing and other senior military commanders to end up in the cell at The Hague.