ICJ to end jurisdiction hearings in Rohingya genocide case

After evolving developments at previous hearings on February 21, 23 and 25 in a case accusing Myanmar of genocide of the Rohingya during the 2017 military crackdown, the World Court will complete hearing the prosecution’s arguments on Monday.

The hearing is scheduled for 3 p.m. local time, according to the court’s website.

The jurisdictional hearing by the UN tribunal – formerly known as the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – takes on added significance amid concerns over who the Southeast Asian country has sent to represent it.

Filed in late 2019, the Rohingya case before the ICJ was complicated by the February 1, 2021 coup that toppled Suu Kyi and her civilian government, sparking mass protests and a bloody military crackdown.

On February 21, the Burmese junta demanded that the court drop the case because The Gambia “was acting as an agent of another and did not have the legal status to press charges”.

Two days later, The Gambia urged judges to reject Myanmar’s challenge, saying the West African state was “nobody’s agent”.

If the court rejects Myanmar’s objection, the court is expected to rule on the question of jurisdiction over the case by the end of the year.

If the case continues, a final decision will likely take several years to come.

The ruling junta, which has not been recognized by the UN General Assembly, has appointed an eight-member team, including Attorney General Thida Oo.

Rights groups and representatives abroad of Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Civilian Government (NUG) feared that the hearing, which will focus on events before the coup, could give the junta some diplomatic legitimacy.

But the court determined that the hearing could proceed as scheduled.

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

The Gambia has sued Myanmar for alleged violation of the genocide convention, citing events in 2017 when more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh after a military-led crackdown. A UN fact-finding mission concluded that the military campaign had included “acts of genocide”.

Myanmar’s then-leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended preliminary hearings in the case in 2019 in The Hague, denying that genocide took place and arguing that the court lacked jurisdiction. She has been detained in Myanmar since the coup.

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

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

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