0117 GMT February 23, 2020
The ICJ, also called the World Court, is the highest United Nations legal body, established in 1945 to deal with disputes between states. It should not be confused with the treaty-based International Criminal Court, also in The Hague, which handles war crimes cases against individuals.
The ICJ’s 15-judge panel has historically dealt with border disputes. Increasingly it also hears cases brought by states accusing others of breaking obligations under UN treaties, according to AP.
This case was brought against Myanmar by the tiny West African nation of Gambia, acting with the support of the 57-member Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), under the 1948 Genocide Convention. Both countries are signatories.
The convention obliges the 150 signatory countries not to commit genocide, but also to prevent and punish genocide. It defines genocide as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group”.
The hearings at the ICJ from Dec.10-12 will not, at this stage, consider whether Myanmar is guilty of genocide. They will focus on a request for so-called provisional measures against Myanmar, a sort of preliminary injunction seeking to halt any ongoing abuse or violations. The measure is similar to a restraining order, but against a state rather than a person.
ICJ cases typically take years to come to a conclusion, but a decision on provisional measures could be made within weeks. Its rulings are final and without appeal, but the court has no way of enforcing them. Still a ruling against Myanmar could hurt its international reputation and set legal precedent.
Myanmar faces a series of legal contests globally accusing it of atrocities against Rohingya Muslims during a military-led crackdown two years ago, but there are no legal precedents.
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh since a 2017 military crackdown, which UN investigators found in August to have been carried out with “genocidal intent.” Myanmar vehemently denies charges of genocide.
Myanmar has previously denied almost all accounts by refugees against its troops, including of mass rape, killings and arson. It says the army was engaged in a legitimate counterterrorism operation against Rohingyas.
The UN investigators concluded that sexual violence committed by Myanmar troops against Rohingya women and girls in 2017 indicated the military intended to destroy the mainly Muslim ethnic minority.
Myanmar’s government failed to hold anyone accountable and was therefore responsible “under the Genocide Convention for its failure to investigate and punish acts of genocide,” the investigators’ report said.
Those findings, along with other court cases launched against Myanmar in recent weeks, could play an important role in the ICJ proceedings.