Myanmar on Monday criticized a genocide case brought against it by Gambia for persecuting Rohingya Muslims, and urged the United Nations’ highest court to drop the case on legal grounds.
Banjul dragged Myanmar before the International Court of Justice in 2019, accusing the majority Buddhist country of committing genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority after a bloody 2017 military crackdown.
When the case opened in December 2019, Aung San Suu Kyi personally represented Myanmar at the Hague-based International Court of Justice, but was ousted as the Asian country’s civilian leader in a military coup last year.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner, who has faced criticism from rights groups for her involvement in the case, is now under house arrest and on trial by the same generals she defended in The Hague.
“Myanmar … does not seek to obstruct the court’s judicial process,” her agent, Ko Ko Hlaing, told the judges in the opulent courtroom of the Peace Palace in The Hague.
“On the contrary, it seeks to respond to the proper administration of justice,” said Myanmar’s Minister of International Cooperation.
Both Hlang, who was in court, and Myanmar’s Attorney General Theda Oo, who was actually in attendance, were both subject to US sanctions for the coup.
Christopher Staker, another lawyer for Myanmar, said the ICJ did not have jurisdiction because it was not a case brought by two countries, as required by the ICJ statute.
“The court has no jurisdiction and … the request is inadmissible because the real applicant in these proceedings is the Organization of Islamic Cooperation,” Stacker said.
He accused the Gambia of “not disposing of its rights…but of interfering on behalf of…the Organization of the Islamic Conference,” referring to the 57-member body set up in 1969 to represent global Islamic interests.
It was only after the Organization of the Islamic Conference suggested that the case against Myanmar be taken to the International Court of Justice, Stacker said, that Gambia agreed to move forward, not the other way around.
Founded after World War II, the International Court of Justice rules on disputes between nations, basing its findings primarily on international treaties and agreements.
Stacker pointed out that “the Organization of the Islamic Conference is an international organization, not a state.”
“An international organization cannot bring a case to court using a country as a proxy applicant,” Stacker said, adding that “The Gambia has never objected to this.”
The International Court of Justice issued a temporary injunction in January 2020 that Myanmar must take “all measures” to prevent the alleged genocide of the Rohingya during the years-long proceedings.
Judgments of the International Court of Justice are binding, but the court has no real means of implementing them.
Bloody campaign The Gambia will present its counter-arguments on Wednesday.
About 850,000 Rohingya live in camps in neighboring Bangladesh, while another 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar’s southwestern Rakhine State.
The Rohingya case in the International Court of Justice has been complicated by the coup that toppled Suu Kyi and her civilian government and sparked mass protests and a bloody military crackdown. A local monitoring group said more than 1,500 civilians were killed.
Suu Kyi now faces a trial in Myanmar on a range of charges that could lead to her imprisonment for more than 150 years.
Ahead of the hearing, the shadow “Government of National Unity” controlled by lawmakers from the ousted Suu Kyi party said it, and not the junta, “is the appropriate representative of Myanmar in the International Court of Justice in the case”.
It also rejects Myanmar’s initial objections, saying that the hearings on these cases should be cancelled, and the court should quickly begin the hearing on the substantive case.
The Government of National Unity does not own any territory and has not been recognized by any foreign government, and it has been declared a “terrorist” organization by the Military Council.
The Gambia accuses Myanmar of violating the 1948 United Nations Genocide Convention.
Banjul says its cause is supported by the 57-nation Organization of the Islamic Conference, Canada and the Netherlands.