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Ending Genocide and Mass Atrocities

World Court Censures Myanmar for Violating Genocide Convention

By February 6, 2020No Comments
On 23 January 2020, a panel of 17 judges of the World Court (also called “the International Court of Justice” [ICJ]) voted unanimously calling on Myanmar (formerly Burma) to take all measures in its power to prevent genocide of the remaining 600,000 Rohingya in the country.  The IJC called for emergency measures to respect the requirements of the 1948 Genocide Convention.
The unanimous ruling amounts to a rejection of the arguments of Aung San Suu Kyi that she presented at the Hague during the three-day IJC hearing that started 10 December 2019. The unanimous decision is remarkable because one of the 17 judges was nominated to the IJC by Myanmar itself.

Lack of Enforcement

This is the first time that the World Court has been asked to rule concerning the Genocide Convention and is thus an important step in the development of world law, but unfortunately the IJC itself does not have any means of enforcement.
On 11 November 2019 the Government of the Gambia had brought to the ICJ in the Hague a complaint against the Government of Myanmar for violating the Genocide Convention in its actions against the Rohingya.  Under the rules of the ICJ, Member States can bring action against other Member States over disputes alleging breaches of international law.  All members of the United Nations are automatically members of the ICJ.
In this case, the Gambia is acting as the conscience of the world society.  The Attorney General of the Gambia, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, who had served as a  special assistant to the prosecutor at the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda said “The case is to send a clear message to Myanmar and the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of the terrible atrocities that are occurring around us.  It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding before our own eyes.”

Accepted World Law

The Genocide Convention is a landmark in the effort to develop a system of universally accepted standards that promote an equitable system of world law for all members of the human family to live together in dignity.  There have been repeated appeals to make the 1948 Genocide Convention operative as world law. (1)
The Genocide Convention has mechanisms for dealing with complaints concerning violations.  Article VIII says “Any Contracting Party may call upon the competent organs of the United Nations as they consider appropriate for the prevention and suppression of acts of genocide.”  When the Convention was being drafted, the competent organ of the United Nations was thought to be the Security Council.  However, despite factual evidence of mass killings – some with an intent to destroy “in whole or in part” an ethnic group in Cambodia, Rwanda, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, and the Sudan – no Contracting Party to the Genocide Convention has ever called for any action under Article VIII of the Conveention. Now, the Gambia has acted and focused on the highest legal body within the U.N. system.
This action by the Gambia is important as it focuses on the mechanisms of world law as well as the dramatic conditions of the Rohingya.
1) For a detailed study of the drafting of the 1948 Genocide Convention and subsequent normative developments, see William A. Schabas. Genocide in International Law (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.)
Disclaimer: The views expressed in this blog post do not necessarily reflect the official policy of Citizens for Global Solutions.
Rene Wadlow

Author Rene Wadlow

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