Justice moves forward

How the International Community is Seeking Legal Action Against Burma

On 11 Nov. 2019, The Gambia filed a case against Burma in the UNs International Court of Justice (ICJ), alleging Burma violated the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which Burma is a signatory to, in its attacks on the Rohingya people. The filing further urged the UN to order measures to stop Myanmars genocidal conduct immediately, recognizing the ongoing nature of the Burma Armys aggression.

The ICJ is the international vehicle to arbitrate disputes between nations, as opposed to the International Criminal Court (ICC), which is used to file claims against individuals. It is unusual for a claim to be filed with the ICJ by a nation not specifically party to the dispute; however, under the Genocide Convention, signatory nations are allowed to go to any appropriate UN body to request action against a threat of genocide.

The UN Security Council would often be considered the most appropriate body with which to file these sorts of claims; however, it is likely that The Gambia bypassed the Security Council with the assumption that China would veto any significant action against Burma. The ICJ filing is made possible in part by the work of a Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) mandated by the UN Human Rights Council in March 2017. From March 2017 to September 2019, the FFM investigated claims of massive human rights violations by the Burma Army against the Rohingya, Kachin, and Shan populations. The primary focus was on the Rohingya and the FFM found enough evidence to label the military campaign as genocide. In addition to its findings on attempted genocide against the Rohingya, the FFM recommendations included a call for justice for victims of gender-based violence, as well as the exposure of the strong link between the military and business and calls for targeted sanctions and arms embargoes.

The Gambia is the first nation to act on the official results of the Fact Finding Mission and take legal action. In the filing, Gambias vice president said, We are a small country with a big voice on matters of human rights. In response to the lawsuit, Aung San Suu Kyi, the defacto leader of Burmas central government (though with no power over the military), said she will address the ICJ directly in defense of the military. In central Burma, people have rallied in support of her, denying claims of genocide.

Others support the lawsuit. The Worldwide Karen Community said that they were greatly heartened by these cases at the ICJ because they send a clear signal to Burma Army leadership that the net of justice is closing in, and their days of impunity – for crimes against all the ethnic peoples in Burma – are numbered.

After decades of the Burma Army committing war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity against the ethnic nationalities in Burma, this is a small but encouraging step towards justice. The international community is finally listening and picking up tools to help; it is to be hoped that the pursuit of justice will make it out of the courts and onto the ground in Burma.

After decades of the Burma Army committing war crimes, genocide, and crimes against humanity against the ethnic nationalities in Burma, this is a small but encouraging step towards justice. The international community is finally listening and picking up tools to help; it is to be hoped that the pursuit of justice will make it out of the courts and onto the ground in Burma.

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