Justice for the Rohingya
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Last week’s preliminary hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) seeking guarantees of basic protection for Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims arguably ( it may be argued (used to qualify the statement of an opinion or belief)) offer only symbolic ( significant purely in terms of what is being represented or implied) hope to this long-suffering community. Yet, the lengthy legal process at the Hague Court on the plight ( a dangerous, difficult, or otherwise unfortunate situation) of thousands forcibly exiled ( (of a person) having been expelled and barred from one’s native country, typically for political or punitive reasons) in refugee camps in Bangladesh is key to forcing accountability ( the fact or condition of being accountable; responsibility ) on Yangon.
The case brought by Gambia, a tiny west African state, on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, pertains ( belong to something as a part, appendage, or accessory ) to alleged ( said, without proof, to have taken place or to have a specified illegal or undesirable quality) genocide ( the deliberate killing of a large group of people, especially those of a particular nation or ethnic group) in 2017 committed by the Myanmarese military. The forces have insisted that their actions were merely in response to the armed insurgency ( an active revolt or uprising), notably by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.
The UN and several rights groups have documented orchestrated ( plan or coordinate the elements of (a situation) to produce a desired effect, especially surreptitiously ) incidents of torched villages, mass rape and other atrocities by the military, forcing over 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh. Rendering ( the action of giving or surrendering something) the lot of the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state particularly vulnerable is the denial of citizenship and the reference by nationalist sections to them as illegal Bengali immigrants.
Oddly enough, arguing the defence of the junta’s actions at the ICJ was Nobel Peace Laureate and Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy swept to power in 2015. She asserted that the Army had acted proportionately in countering the rebels and accused Gambia of misrepresenting ( give a false or misleading account of the nature of) the situation, while critics point out that she downplayed the extent of the violence and official failure to intervene ( take part in something so as to prevent or alter a result or course of events).
Observers highlight the absence of an explicit ( stated clearly and in detail, leaving no room for confusion or doubt ) reference to the Rohingya in her testimony ( a formal written or spoken statement, especially one given in a court of law), much like her equivocation ( the use of ambiguous language to conceal the truth or to avoid committing oneself; prevarication) after the 2017 carnage ( the killing of a large number of people) and claims of fake news. She has even been accused of choosing to argue the defence in person with an eye on the 2020 general election.
Lawyers representing Myanmar insisted ( demand something forcefully, not accepting refusal) that while violent crimes were committed during the conflict, motives of genocide against the community could not be imputed ( represent (something, especially something undesirable) as being done or possessed by someone; attribute) against the authorities. The ICJ, which adjudicates ( make a formal judgement on a disputed matter) disputes between countries, has handed down guilty verdicts in a few cases relating to crimes of genocide.
But crucially, it has stopped short of pinning ( hold (someone) firmly in a specified position so they are unable to move) the blame directly upon states as in the 2007 ruling on the Bosnian war of the preceding decade, relying on a differentiation between ethnic cleansing and genocide. The challenges of establishing conclusive proof of the intention to extirpate ( eradicate or destroy completely) entire communities underlies this caution.
A decision regarding genocide relating to the atrocities against the Rohingya is not expected any time soon. The more urgent concern before the court is Gambia’s petition seeking an injunction ( an authoritative warning or order) that the violence against the community cease forthwith ( (especially in official use) immediately; without delay) and the government guarantee immediate protection. Ms. Suu Kyi must heed ( pay attention to; take notice of) that call without reservations.