THE HAGUE, NETHERLANDS - The U.N.'s International Court of Justice has ordered Myanmar to "take all measures within its power" to prevent any acts of genocide against the Rohingya Muslims, the ethnic group that was forced to flee their homes amid a bloody military crackdown in 2017.
The court's ruling Thursday was in response to a complaint filed last November by the West African nation Gambia on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation against Myanmar, accusing it of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.
More than 700,000 Rohingyas fled across the border into Bangladesh in August 2017 to escape a scorched earth campaign launched by the Myanmar military in response to attacks on security posts by Rohingya militants in northwestern Rakhine state. A U.N. investigation concluded the campaign was carried out "with genocidal intent," based on interviews with survivors who gave numerous accounts of massacres, extrajudicial killings, gang rapes and the torching of entire villages.
In reading the court's opinion from its headquarters at The Hague, President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said the Rohingya remained at a "real and imminent risk" of persecution at the hands of the military.
The court ordered Myanmar to ensure those responsible for the genocide be held responsible; to ensure the military and any allied armed groups not commit acts of genocide, or involve itself in conspiracy to trigger genocide against Rohingya; to preserve all evidence related to the crimes, and to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingyas back to Rakhine state.
The ICJ also ordered Myanmar to submit a report within four months on what actions it is taking to comply with the court's decision, and to submit follow up reports every six months after that.
Myanmar's military was defended during last month's hearings by Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's de facto leader. Standing before the court in her official role as foreign minister, Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated her government's claim that the military was targeting Rohingya militants.
Writing Thursday in the London-based newspaper The Financial Times, Aung San Suu Kyi said Myanmar would conduct domestic investigations and prosecutions of civilians and military personnel who "may have participated in looting or burning villages." But she added that an investigation by the Independent Commission of Inquiry found no evidence of genocide.
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy stand against Myanmar's then-ruling military junta, which placed her under house arrest for 15 years until finally freeing her in 2010. But her defense of the military's actions against the Rohingyas has permanently wrecked her reputation among the international community as an icon of democracy and human rights.
In the cramped refugee camp at Cox's Bazaar, the Rohingyas began the day with prayers as they awaited the court's ruling. Hours later, cheers broke out through the camp as news spread of the ruling spread, as the refugees praised Gambia and the rest of the international community for bringing the matter before the court.
The Rohingya were excluded from a 1982 citizenship law that bases full legal status through membership in a government-recognized indigenous group. Myanmar considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, effectively rendering the ethnic group stateless.