World Court to Open Jurisdictional Hearings in Myanmar Genocide Case

Band Stephanie van den Berg and Toby Sterling

THE HAGUE, February 21 (Reuters)The World Court is due to hear arguments on Monday in a case brought against Myanmar demanding the country end alleged acts of genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority.

The jurisdictional hearing by the UN tribunal takes on added importance due to concerns over who the Southeast Asian country has sent to represent it.

The ruling junta, which took power in February 2021 and has not been recognized by the UN General Assembly, has appointed an eight-member team, including Attorney General Thida Oo.

Rights groups and overseas representatives of Myanmar’s parallel National Unity Civilian Government (NUG) fear that the hearing, which will focus on events prior to the coup, will give the junta a certain diplomatic legitimacy.

But the tribunal, officially known as the International Court of Justice (ICJ), determined that the hearing could go ahead as scheduled.

Monday’s hearing focuses on whether the court does indeed have jurisdiction to hear the case, a decision that could take months.

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.

(Reporting by Toby Sterling and Stephanie van den Berg; editing by John Stonestreet)

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