Impunity in Myanmar, 5 Years After Genocide

On August 25, 2017, the Myanmar military, known as the Tatmadaw, escalated a genocidal campaign in Rakhine State against the Muslim Rohingya community. Despite a case at the International Court of Justice, international investigations, and efforts to pursue justice under universal jurisdiction, there has been little progress in achieving accountability. In the face of serious obstacles, including the Tatmadaw’s February 2021 coup, civil society leaders are leading the charge for accountability and fighting for a peaceful future in Myanmar.

This discussion focused on the urgent need to combat impunity in Myanmar and mitigate ongoing mass atrocity risks in the country.

Featuring:

  • Robert Rae, Ambassador, Canadian Mission to the United Nations
  • Nicholas Koumjian, Head of the Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar
  • Naomi Kikoler, Director, Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide, US Holocaust Memorial Museum
  • Akila Radhakrishnan, President, Global Justice Center
  • Yasmin Ullah, Rohingya human rights activist, feminist, and poet
  • Naw Hser Hser, General Secretary, Women’s League of Burma

The Rohingya Genocide — 5 Years Later

The Rohingya genocide began on August 25, 2017. The so-called “clearance operations” were marked by murder, sexual violence, and community destruction on a massive scale. UN experts, the United States government, and others have recognized this genocide. Yet, justice continues to be denied to the Rohingya.

Along with our partners at the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, we commemorate this historic crime and continue to stand in solidarity with the Rohingya and their struggle for justice.

International Court of Justice Rejects Procedural Objections From Myanmar in Genocide Case

NEW YORK — The International Court of Justice today issued a ruling that rejected “preliminary objections” raised by Myanmar in its genocide case. The case brought by The Gambia to hold Myanmar accountable for its 2017 genocide of the Rohingya will now move on to the merits phase.

Preliminary objections are typically filed to raise procedural issues. Among other things, Myanmar objected to the court’s jurisdiction as well as The Gambia’s standing to bring the case. For more on preliminary measures, see this recent Q&A on the case.

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“Since its genocide of the Rohingya nearly five years ago, Myanmar’s military junta has done whatever it can to avoid or delay international accountability for its crimes. The court’s ruling today rejects Myanmar’s latest delay tactic, advancing this critical vehicle for justice.

“This court has rejected the military junta at every turn. In its hearings and order on provisional measures, the court already considered and rejected many of these procedural objections from Myanmar. In issuing provisional measures, the court also found that serious risks of genocide still existed for the Rohingya and ordered Myanmar to take steps to prevent genocide. The fact is, Myanmar violated the Genocide Convention and it can’t avoid accountability any longer.

“Since it seized power in a coup last February, the military junta’s violence and criminality has only deepened. Though we’ve seen strong condemnation and some bare accountability measures from the international community, the people of Myanmar continue to suffer under this brutal regime. And though this case is just one of many roads toward justice, its resolution would be a major step towards justice and a sustainable, democratic Myanmar.”

Justice for Ongoing Rohingya Genocide


The seminar coincides with the six months reporting deadline of Myanmar to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Gambia v. Myanmar Rohingya Genocide. BROUK will also publish its own report to show the real situation on the ground in Rakhine State, and how the genocide of the Rohingya is ongoing.

Moderator:

AKILA RADHAKRISHNAN is the President of the Global Justice Center (GJC). She directs GJC’s strategies and efforts to establish legal precedents protecting human rights and ensuring gender equality.

Speakers:

NAOMI KIKOLER is the director of the Simon-Skjodt Center for the Prevention of Genocide. As the Center’s deputy director she led Center’s policy engagement with the United States government and work on Bearing Witness countries, including undertaking the documentation of the commission of genocide by ISIS.

ZOYA PHAN is Campaigns Manager at the advocacy organisation Burma Campaign UK, and co-founder of the charity, Phan Foundation.

TUN KHIN is an ethnic Rohingya Muslim from Arakan (Rakhine) State in Myanmar, the President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) and a prominent activist for the Rohingya people.

TOMAS QUINTANA, Argentinian lawyer and lead counsel in the current Universal Jurisdiction case pending in Argentina; UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in North Korea and former UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Myanmar.

U.S. Says Myanmar Military Committed Genocide Against Rohingya

Excerpt of Wall Street Journal article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Calls to prosecute Myanmar’s generals have grown since February last year, when the military overthrew the civilian government of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi. The military has since been accused of more abuses including arbitrary arrests, custodial torture and killing of civilians.

“This is a welcome, yet long overdue step from the Biden administration,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “The same military who committed genocide against the Rohingya are those who are illegally in power as a result of a military coup—the cycle of impunity must be broken.”

In October 2016 and August 2017, Myanmar’s armed forces launched what they called “clearance operations” in response to attacks on state security forces by Rohingya insurgents in the country’s western state of Rakhine. Independent investigators from the U.S. and the U.N. concluded that Myanmar troops committed widespread atrocities: Civilians were tortured and killed, women were gang raped and children and elderly people were burned alive as entire villages were razed.

Read the article

United States to Designate Crimes Against Rohingya as Genocide

NEW YORK — Reports surfaced today that the United States will formally determine that atrocities committed against the Rohingya minority by Myanmar’s military in northern Rakhine State amount to genocide and crimes against humanity. The Biden administration will officially announce the designation tomorrow.

Akila Radhakrishnan, President of the Global Justice Center, issued the following statement:

“This is a welcome, yet long overdue step from the Biden administration. Recognizing the crimes against Rohingya for what they are — a genocide — is necessary if the world hopes to marshal a swift and appropriate response. So it’s absolutely crucial that this designation is followed by a renewed campaign of action from the United States to hold the military accountable. The same military who committed genocide against the Rohingya are those who are illegally in power as a result of a military coup — the cycle of impunity must be broken.

“Powerful measures the US could take include pushing the UN Security Council to refer the crisis to the International Criminal Court, taking the lead in demanding a global arms embargo, and securing humanitarian access to vulnerable populations in the country.

“Any such renewed effort from the US should also explicitly recognize the gendered nature of this genocide. The military’s systemic use of sexual and other gendered violence is critical to understanding both the Rohingya genocide and its ongoing post-coup crimes.”

Avenues to Accountability for Sexual Violence in Myanmar

The Myanmar military and security forces have used on sexual violence as a tactic to terrorize civilians, especially ethnic minorities and women, girls, and gender-diverse people. Sexual violence was also a hallmark of the Rohingya genocide, as confirmed by the UN Fact-Finding Mission in 2017. Even before the February 2021 military coup, accountability within Myanmar was virtually unattainable; however, a number of avenues for justice exist at the international level. This panel will provide an opportunity to hear from local and international experts on potential avenues to justice and accountability for sexual violence crimes in Myanmar.

  • Akila Radhakrishnan (Moderator)
  • Wai Wai Nu, Founder, Women's Peace Network
  • Esther Ze Naw, Youth Coordinator, Kachin Peace Network
  • Naw Wah Ku Shee, Coordinator, Karen Peace Support Network
  • Ambassador Kelley Currie, Former U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues

Watch the Webinar

Myanmar’s military has spent the year since the coup searching for international legitimacy. It has not found it.

Excerpt of Washington Post article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Lawyers for the Gambia argued this week that “now, even more than before, justice within Myanmar is impossible,” using the coup to argue that there cannot and will not be any resolution or accountability for the Rohingya inside the country. The risks that the Rohingya face, the lawyers added, have only intensified since the coup with armed conflicts raging all over the country.

The hearings — only the third genocide case the court has ever heard — show the military “that they will get hauled into court to respond to their actions,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

“This is a military that has for decades committed crimes, and has intensified their crimes, toward the population at large,” she said. She and others believe the case is very likely to go ahead, particularly without the civilian government led by Suu Kyi to protect and shelter the military, though a resolution could take years.

Read the article

The Path Forward for the Rohingya Community

The Rohingya community has long suffered under the Myanmar government’s decades-long policies of persecution against them, which were only exacerbated during and in the wake of the 2017 acts of genocide against them. Today, over a million Rohingya remain outside Myanmar, and an additional 600,000 in Rakhine continue to suffer. Following the February 2021 military coup, the prospect of Rohingyas’ safe return to Myanmar is even more precarious, as is the situation of those still in the country. This panel is an opportunity for international policymakers and advocates to hear directly from Rohingya leaders about challenges currently facing the community, and how the international community can best support the Rohingya people.

Watch the Webinar

Justice for Myanmar, at the ICJ and Beyond

After over 60 years of serious human rights abuses and mass atrocities, including war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide committed by Myanmar’s military, it is only recently that the international community has taken steps to hold the Tatmadaw to account. Impunity has emboldened the military and was an enabling factor for the military’s February 2021 coup. While at present, international accountability efforts are focused on justice for the Rohingya, however, these cases importantly break the cycle of impunity and lay the groundwork for accountability for other communities in Myanmar, including crimes against other ethnic groups, as well as crimes committed in the context of the coup.

This panel will explore how the ICJ proceedings complement other international accountability efforts, and discuss how they can inform future cases and investigations against the Myanmar military.

Watch the Webinar

BBC Radio: International Court of Justice Hearings Begin

Excerpt of BBC Radio segment featuring Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan.

Also on the programme, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced the lifting of all Covid rules including the need to self-isolate after testing positive with the virus; and, Myanmar is back in The Hague over its genocide of the Rohingya but this time with a new leadership.

Listen to the segment

Myanmar junta takes place of Aung San Suu Kyi at Rohingya hearing

Excerpt of The Guardian article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan

Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Centre, said she did not believe the junta’s appearance before the court would lend legitimacy to the military. It was likely to simply reflect a continuation of the status quo in court procedures, she said.

Radhakrishnan added: “There is such a strong link between impunity and the coup occurring, and the fact that the military has very rarely faced any direct consequences, that I think there is import to the fact that they are learning that they will be hauled into court – and this time around, unlike 2019, they can’t hide behind Aung San Suu Kyi and the civilian government.”

Read the Article

‘Important opportunity’: Myanmar Rohingya genocide case to resume

Excerpt of Al Jazeera article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan

Rohingya and rights groups say despite the issue of representation, the case has gained added urgency because of the crackdown on the anti-coup movement since February 1, 2021. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP), which has been tracking developments, says more than 1,560 people have been killed since the generals seized power, and that violence has also increased in ethnic minority areas.

“As the Myanmar military continues to commit atrocities against anti-coup protesters and ethnic minorities, it should be put on notice there will be consequences for these actions – past, present, and future,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “The ICJ’s proceedings are laying the groundwork for accountability in Myanmar – not only for the Rohingya, but for all others who have suffered at the hands of the military.”

Read the Article

UN court hearings set to resume into Rohingya genocide case

Excerpt of Associated Press article that quotes Global Justice Center President Akila Radhakrishnan

The court didn’t respond to a request for comment on Myanmar’s representation at the hearings.

“What’s really important here is that... if it is the junta that’s in court, this is not something that should be taken to confer legitimacy on the junta,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center.

At public hearings in late 2019, lawyers representing Gambia showed judges maps, satellite images and graphic photos to detail what they called a campaign of murder, rape and destruction amounting to genocide perpetrated by Myanmar’s military.

Read the Article

February 2022 Q&A: Gambia v. Myanmar (Burmese translation) ဂမ်ဘီယာမှ မြန်မာပြည်ကို အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာတရားရုံးတွင် စွပ်စွဲထားသော အမှုနှင့်ပတ်သတ်သည့် နောက်ဆုံး အခြေအနေမ

ဂမ်ဘီယာမှ မြန်မာပြည်ကို အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာတရားရုံးတွင် စွပ်စွဲထားသော အမှုနှင့်ပတ်သတ်သည့် နောက်ဆုံး အခြေအနေများ အမေးအဖြေများ ဖေဖော်ဝါရီ ၁၄၊ ၂၀၂၂ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံ၊ ရခိုင်ပြည်နယ်မြောက်ပိုင်းရှိ ရိုဟင်ဂျာတိုင်းရင်းသားများအပေါ် စစ်တပ်၏ရက်စက်ကြမ်းကြုတ်မှုများမှာ ဂျန်နိုဆိုက်ရာဇဝတ်မှု ကာကွယ်တားဆီးရေးနှင့် အပြစ်ပေးရေးကွန်ဗန်းရှင်းကို ချိုးဖောက်သည်ဟု ဂမ်ဘီယာနိုင်ငံမှ မြန်မာနိုင်ငံကို စွပ်စွဲထားသည့်အမှုကို ဖေဖော်ဝါရီလ ၂၁ ရက်မှ ၂၈ ရက်အတွင်း နယ်သာလန်နိုင်ငံ၊ သဟိတ်မြို့ ရှိ အပြည်ပြည်ဆိုင်ရာတရားရုံး (ICJ) တွင် လူသိရှင်ကြား ကြားနာမည်ဖြစ်သည်။ ထိုကြားနာမှုနှင့်ပတ်သတ်သော အဓိကအချက်အလက်များကို အောက်ပါအမေးအဖြေများတွင် ဖော်ပြထားသည်။.

Download the Full Q&A

Q&A: Developments in Gambia’s Case Against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice

From February 21 to 28, 2022, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands, will hold public hearings in the Case of The Gambia v. Myanmar concerning Myanmar’s alleged violations of the Genocide Convention against the ethnic Rohingya population in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine State. The following questions and answers address key issues regarding those hearings.

1. What is the status of the case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice?

In November 2019, Gambia – with the backing of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) – filed a case, The Gambia v. Myanmar,before the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The case alleged that Myanmar’s atrocities against the ethnic Rohingya in Rakhine State violated various provisions of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention). Gambia, which ratified the Genocide Convention in 1978, brought the case under Article 9 of the convention, which allows for disputes between parties “relating to the responsibility of a State for genocide” and related acts to be submitted to the ICJ.

In December 2019, the court held hearings on Gambia’s request for provisional measures to protect the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar from genocide, which the court unanimously adopted in January 2020 (see below). In January 2021, Myanmar, then under the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, filed preliminary objections challenging the court’s jurisdiction and Gambia’s standing to file the case.

On February 1, 2021, Myanmar’s military staged a coup, overthrew the democratically elected government, and replaced it with a military junta, the State Administration Council. The case continues and the ICJ will hold public hearings on Myanmar’s preliminary objections from February 21 to 28, 2022.

Download the Full Report

Q&A: Rohingya Genocide Case Steps Toward Justice

International Court of Justice (ICJ) hearings beginning February 21, 2022 underline the critical importance of bringing justice for the Myanmar military’s abuses against ethnic Rohingya, Human Rights Watch and the Global Justice Center said today. The groups released a question-and-answer document outlining recent developments in the case, including the impact of the February 1, 2021 military coup in Myanmar, on the ICJ proceedings.

The hearings at the court from February 21 to 28 are for the case brought by Gambia against Myanmar alleging that the military’s atrocities in Rakhine State against Rohingya Muslims violate the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (Genocide Convention).

“The International Court of Justice hearings are the next step in the landmark case to break the cycle of violence and impunity in Myanmar,” said Nushin Sarkarati, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch. “The case could build a pathway to justice, not only for the Rohingya, but for everyone in the country.”

In November 2019, Gambia filed a case before the ICJ alleging that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya in Rakhine State violate various provisions of the Genocide Convention. The case before the ICJ is not a criminal case against individual alleged perpetrators, but a legal determination of state responsibility for genocide.

The ICJ held hearings in December 2019, on Gambia’s request, for provisional measures to protect the Rohingya remaining in Myanmar from genocide, which the court unanimously adopted in January 2020. The new hearings will cover Myanmar’s preliminary objections to the case, which challenge the court’s jurisdiction and Gambia’s legal standing to file the case.

The court’s provisional measures require Myanmar to prevent all genocidal acts against the Rohingya, to ensure that security forces do not commit acts of genocide, and to take steps to preserve evidence related to the case. Myanmar is legally bound to comply with this order. However, Human Rights Watch and others have documented ongoing grave abuses against the 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar, contravening the provisional measures ordered by the court.

Since the February 2021 coup, junta security forces have carried out mass killings, torture, sexual violence, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses that Human Rights Watch believes amount to crimes against humanity. Security forces have killed over 1,500 people since the coup, including at least 100 children, and arbitrarily detained over 11,000 activists, politicians, journalists, and others. Rohingya have also faced even greater movement restrictions and harsher punishments for attempting to leave Rakhine State, which amount to the crimes against humanity of persecution, apartheid, and severe deprivation of liberty.

In 2019, Myanmar’s government appointed State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi to lead its delegation to the ICJ. During the 2021 coup, the military arrested Aung San Suu Kyi and a junta-controlled court sentenced her to six years in prison. She still faces over 150 years in prison combined on various additional fabricated charges. On June 24, 2021, the junta announced that it appointed a panel of eight senior junta officials to represent Myanmar’s delegation before the court.

During the February hearings, representatives of Myanmar and Gambia will present arguments as to whether the ICJ has jurisdiction to examine the genocide claims against Myanmar. The hearings will take place in a hybrid format, including both in-person and virtual participants. Live streaming of the hearings will be available in English and French on the court’s website and on UN Web TV.

While the ICJ case focuses exclusively on alleged crimes against the Rohingya, the military has committed brutal abuses across Myanmar. In the wake of the coup, ethnic groups have sought greater solidarity in the pursuit of justice, as the military’s atrocities against the Rohingya have been echoed in attacks on civilians around the country. The ICJ case could set the stage to scrutinize the Myanmar military’s longstanding international crimes more widely, Human Rights Watch and the Global Justice Center said.

“As the Myanmar military continues to commit atrocities against anti-coup protesters and ethnic minorities, it should be put on notice there will be consequences for these actions – past, present, and future,” said Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center. “The ICJ’s proceedings are laying the groundwork for accountability in Myanmar – not only for the Rohingya, but for all others who have suffered at the hands of the military.”

For a question-and-answer document on recent developments on Gambia’s Case Against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, please visit: https://www.hrw.org/news/2022/02/14/developments-gambias-case-against-myanmar-international-court-justice

For more Human Rights Watch reporting on international justice, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/topic/international-justice    
 
For more Human Rights Watch reporting on Myanmar, please visit:
https://www.hrw.org/asia/myanmar-burma  

For more on the Global Justice Center’s work on Myanmar, please visit:
https://globaljusticecenter.net/our-work/demanding-justice-for-sexual-and-gender-based-violence/mass-atrocity-crimes

Diaspora, CBOs/CSOs, NGOs Urge President Biden to Implement a Coordinated Response Against the Burmese Military Junta

Dear President Biden,

We, the undersigned 233 diaspora, CBOs/CSOs and nonprofit organizations from 17 countries, write to urge your Administration to implement a coordinated and comprehensive response to the Burmese military’s shocking and escalating violence since the February 1, 2021, attempted coup. The Burmese military’s systematic violence has resulted in extensive loss of life, daily human rights violations and the forced displacement of tens of thousands, especially in ethnic areas. On the one-year anniversary of the military’s illegal coup, we call upon you to treat the situation with the urgency and decisive action it demands by not only publicly condemning the ongoing brutality across Burma but also implementing a multi-step response plan, which includes coordinating a global arms embargo and sanctioning the military’s oil and gas revenues.

Most crucially, a global arms embargo is necessary to prevent the military from accessing the artillery and air strike equipment that it currently utilizes to indiscriminately attack civilians. This relentless campaign of terror is funded by key oil and gas revenues that allow the military to continue paying their personnel and purchasing deadly weaponry. Thus, cutting off the military’s profits from oil and gas revenues is necessary to strangle a crucial source of funding for the brutal campaigns and militarization currently seen in several ethnic states. Third, supplying cross-border aid is imperative given the countless internationally displaced persons (IDPs) who have been forced to seek refuge in neighboring Thailand, where they shelter in unsanitary, inhumane, and insecure conditions. Lastly, to show true solidarity with efforts to resist the junta’s illegal rule, the National Unity Government must be recognized as Burma’s only governing body to effectively invalidate any power commandeered by the State Administration Council. The primary means to ensure genuine democracy in Burma is to recognize the legitimacy of the political will of the Burmese people and to defund and delegitimize the Burmese military because of what they are: illegitimate usurpers and unconscionable perpetrators of war crimes and crimes against humanity.

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