Home Jurisdiction Myanmar genocide case at World Court clouded by representation dispute

Myanmar genocide case at World Court clouded by representation dispute


People take photos as cars arrive at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the highest court of the United Nations, during court hearings in a case brought by The Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the Muslim population minority Rohingya, in The Hague, the Netherlands, December 12, 2019. REUTERS / Eva Plevier

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THE HAGUE, Feb 21 (Reuters) – The World Court on Monday began hearing preliminary arguments in a case brought against Myanmar demanding it end alleged acts of genocide against its Muslim Rohingya minority, with junta officials appearing for Myanmar.

Presiding Judge Joan Donoghue briefly touched on the debate over who has the right to represent the Southeast Asian country in the UN tribunal after the military seized power a year ago.

The junta, which detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a coup last February, has not been recognized by the UN General Assembly.

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Monday was the first of four days of hearings on the junta’s objections to the jurisdiction of the court, officially known as the International Court of Justice (ICJ). A decision could take months to reach.

The junta nevertheless wants to be the official representative of Myanmar. The parallel civil government of national unity, made up of members of the deposed administration and other opponents of the junta, accepts the jurisdiction of the court and also wants to be the representative of Myanmar.

The case before the ICJ was brought in 2019 by Gambia, a predominantly Muslim West African country, backed by the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The Gambia claims Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention, citing events in 2017 when more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh after a military crackdown. A UN fact-finding mission concluded that the military campaign had included “acts of genocide”.

The Myanmar military denies the charge, saying it was waging a legitimate counterinsurgency campaign.

Judge Donoghue recalled that the parties in the cases brought before the Court “are States, not particular governments”, before questioning the new representative of Myanmar, Ko Ko Hlaing.

Ko Ko Hlaing is the junta’s minister for international cooperation. While stressing that Myanmar maintained that the case was inadmissible because the court lacked jurisdiction, he added that the junta wanted to cooperate with the process.

“Myanmar raises these preliminary objections with the utmost respect for the court,” he said.


Lawyers for the junta argued on Monday that The Gambia was a proxy for the others and lacked the legal status to sue.

Gambia’s lawyers will be able to respond during the second day of hearings, scheduled for Wednesday.

Outside the court, about 20 demonstrators braved strong winds and heavy rain, waving “Save Myanmar” banners and banging pots and pans in protest against the arrival of junta officials.

“The military dictatorship is not only killing the Rohingya but also all ethnic (groups),” protester Zin Min Hdun told Reuters.

During a press conference in front of the court, the minister of foreign affairs of the government of national unity had called on the judges not to recognize the representatives of the junta. Read more

Suu Kyi attended preliminary hearings in the case in 2019 in The Hague, when she also denied that genocide took place.

In a 2020 ruling, the court ordered Myanmar to take steps to protect the Rohingya from harm, given the urgency of the case.

Speaking to reporters outside the court, Ambia Perveen of the European Rohingya Council said that although the junta does not represent the people of Myanmar, it was important that the case progress.

“The people who perpetrated the genocide must be brought to justice,” she said.

Should the court decide that it has jurisdiction to hear the case, a decision on the merits of The Gambia’s claim could take years longer to be rendered.

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Reporting by Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg; Additional reporting by Poppy McPherson; Editing by John Stonestreet, Nick Macfie and Alex Richardson

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