THE HAGUE: The UN’s highest court ordered Myanmar on Thursday to do everything in its power to prevent the alleged genocide of Rohingya Muslims, as international justice stepped into the crisis for the first time.

The International Court of Justice rejected arguments made by Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in The Hague in December and set out urgent steps for the majority Buddhist nation to end the violence.

The mainly Muslim African state of The Gambia had asked the court to impose emergency measures following a 2017 military crackdown by Myanmar that sent around 740,000 Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Presiding judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said “the court was of the opinion that the Rohingya in Myanmar remain extremely vulnerable” and needed to be protected from further bloodshed.

Thousands are suspected to have been killed in the crackdown and refugees brought widespread reports of rape and arson by Myanmar’s military and local Buddhist militias.

The court ordered Myanmar to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts” described by the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, under which Gambia brought the case.

These acts included “killing members of the group” and “deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part”.

The court — set up after World War II as the UN’s top judicial organ to rule in disputes between nations — ordered Myanmar to report back within four months, and then every six months after that. It also told the country to prevent the destruction of any evidence of crimes against the Rohingya.

Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou hailed the court’s decision to uphold his country’s case, which was supported by the 57-nation Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, Canada and the Netherlands.

“This is a historic day today, not just for international law, for the international community, but especially for the Rohingya,” he told reporters outside the court.

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi — who was widely criticised for her defence of the same military that once locked her up for years — said on Thursday that some Rohingya refugees might have “exaggerated” the extent of the abuses.

“The international justice system may not yet be equipped to filter out misleading information before shadows of incrimination are cast over entire nations and governments,” she wrote in an opinion piece in the Financial Times published ahead of the ruling.

Suu Kyi also said Myanmar should have time to act on the results of an internal investigation by the country, which this week admitted war crimes might have been committed but ruled out genocide.

The military dodged questions in the capital Naypyidaw on Thursday morning, with a spokesman telling reporters it would simply “follow the instructions of the government”.

Published in Dawn, January 24th, 2020