The International Court of Justice has extended two deadlines for written arguments in a complaint brought by the West African nation of Gambia alleging that Myanmar’s military carried out genocide against minority Rohingya Muslims.
The Muslim-majority nation – mainland Africa’s smallest country – accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention during a campaign of military-led violence in 2017 that led to thousands of Rohingya deaths.
The Hague-based court on Oct. 16 said that Gambia can wait until May 16, 2024, to submit pleadings in the case, while the junta regime has until Dec. 16, 2024, to submit its counter-argument.
The deadlines have already been extended several times by the court, which is the principal judicial organ of the United Nations.
“The Rohingya are frustrated that they have to wait for so long, year after year, to get a solution for the crimes committed by the Myanmar military,” said Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.
“I hope this is the last delay,” he said. “The court needs to stop granting the Myanmar military every time it asks for extension of time.”
The military’s alleged atrocities included indiscriminate killings, mass rape and village torchings as more than 740,000 fled across the border to Bangladesh.
The violence was committed during the tenure of the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi, who in December 2019 defended the military against allegations of genocide at the ICJ.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner and one-time democracy icon now languishes in prison — toppled by the same military in a February 2021 coup d’etat.
In 2022, the National Unity Government, formed by former Myanmar lawmakers who operate as a shadow government in opposition to the military junta, said they accept the authority of the ICJ to decide if the campaign against Rohingya constituted a genocide, and would withdraw all preliminary objections in the case.
Later in 2022, the ICJ rejected all of the junta’s objections to the case, clearing the way to consider the factual evidence against Myanmar, a process that could take years.
Ro Anamul Hasan, a Rohingya teacher living in one of the Bangladesh refugee camps, believes the junta is delaying the ICJ trial while it moves forward on a plan to repatriate some Rohingya under a small pilot project.
“The junta is buying time for pilot repatriation,” she told Radio Free Asia. “They think that if pilot repatriation happens, the seriousness of the crime in the ICJ case will be reduced.”
Seven years of waiting
Another Rohingya woman told RFA that the delays in the case are frustrating.
“It has been seven years of relying on them and waiting for a solution,” she said. “Life in the refugee camp where we live is getting worse day-by-day.”
NUG spokesman Nay Phone Latt told RFA on Tuesday that the “the longer the delay in getting justice, the bolder the perpetrators become.”
RFA’s calls to junta spokesman Major Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment on the extensions went unanswered.
The Rohingya, whose ethnicity is not recognized by the junta regime, have faced decades of discrimination in Myanmar and are effectively stateless. Myanmar administrations have refused to call them “Rohingya” and instead use the term “Bengali.”
Myanmar faces other lawsuits, including one filed in 2019 in Argentina under the principle of “universal jurisdiction,” and an authorization by the International Criminal Court to investigate crimes against humanity over the alleged forced deportation of the Rohingya.
Gambia’s complaint, also brought in 2019, was filed on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The ICJ was established in 1945 to settle disputes in accordance with international law through binding judgments with no right of appeal.
Translated by Htin Aung Kyaw. Edited by Matt Reed and Malcolm Foster.