Myanmar continues to violate the rights of the Rohingyas and fails to comply with its obligations under the UN Genocide Convention, regional rights body Fortify Rights has said, calling for urgent action by the top UN court that starts historic hearing of the genocide case against the country tomorrow.
The International Court of Justice should issue “provisional measures” to Myanmar in response to the urgent situation of the Rohingyas there, it said in a statement on Saturday ahead of the court hearing in The Hague on December 10-12.
New evidence indicates how Myanmar authorities are using Rohingyas for slave labour, systematically restricting their freedom of movement and denying them the right to nationality.
More than 500,000 Rohingyas now live in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
“Forced labour and systematic restrictions on freedom of movement may constitute the infliction of conditions of life designed to destroy a group in whole or in part -- a prohibited act of genocide,” said the Bangkok-based rights body.
“Myanmar authorities are defiant and continue to violate the rights of Rohingya. These ongoing violations aggravate the issue of genocide before the court and require urgent action,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights that works on human rights in Southeast Asia.
“We are confident the court will urgently and appropriately respond to the situation,” he said in the statement.
The Gambia, on behalf of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Conference (OIC), filed the lawsuit against Myanmar on November 11, accusing it of violating the UN Genocide Convention.
The move came more than two years after some 7,50,000 Rohingyas fled a brutal military campaign in Rakhine and took shelter in Bangladesh.
Gambia Attorney General and Justice Minister Abubacarr Marie Tambadou will lead a panel of lawyers on behalf of his country while Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi will head a team of counsels on behalf of her country at tomorrow’s hearing.
In the lawsuit, the Gambia said Rohingyas have been facing persecution and discrimination for long. In October 2016, Myanmar military and security forces launched widespread and systematic “clearance operations” against the community.
From August 2017 onwards, such genocidal acts continued with Myanmar’s resumption of “clearance operations” on a more massive and wider geographical scale.
The Gambia requested the court to “issue provisional measures to Myanmar as a matter of extreme urgency” and to “protect against further, irreparable harm to the rights of the Rohingya group under the Genocide Convention”.
In previous cases, the ICJ indicated provisional measures when it found that it was “not inconceivable” that the violations in dispute might occur again and where the affected group remained at risk of additional violations. In the current case before the court, these conditions for provisional measures are met, said Fortify Rights.
Fortify Rights interviewed 12 Rohingya survivors of recent human rights violations in Rakhine, documenting seven cases of Rohingya forced labour by the Myanmar Army Light Infantry Battalions (LIBs) 551, 552, and 564 as well as the Border Guard Police (BGP) as recent as September this year in Buthidaung Township.
Citing an example, it said, on September 19, Myanmar Army personnel from LIB 551 entered Sindi Parang village, also known as Tha Pyay Taw, in Buthidaung Township, detained 30 men and boys, and forced them to carry military equipment for nearly the entire day without food or water.
A Rohingya survivor, 35, told Fortify Rights, “[Soldiers] kicked and punched me more than seven times along the way. I was hit on my head. They beat me because I was not walking as fast as they wanted.
“They hit me on my head with the gun. One of the soldiers yelled, ‘Move quickly. Move quickly’. When I was hit with the gun, I fell to my knees. My friend helped me stand up. I was very dizzy, and I had a hard time walking.”
Soldiers also forced Rohingya boys, aged 13 to 14, to work as porters. “The boys were crying,” a survivor told Fortify Rights. “They were struggling to carry the bags the military gave them.”
RESTRICTIONS ON FREEDOM OF MOVEMENT
Myanmar continues to deny Rohingyas freedom of movement and arbitrarily detain those who attempt to travel outside their villages without official approval. These restrictions prevent Rohingyas from accessing health care, livelihoods and means of subsistence, said Fortify Rights.
For instance, on September 26, 2019, Myanmar police arrested a group of 30 Rohingyas in Irrawaddy region after they arrived by boat from Sittwe, where the government continues to confine more than 125,000 civilians, mostly Rohingyas, in more than 20 internment camps.
The police denied the 30 Rohingyas due process and access to lawyers, and on October 4, the Ngapudaw Township Court sentenced 21 of them to two years in Pathein prison. A Myanmar-based lawyer told Fortify Rights that the authorities prevented her from providing legal support for the detained Rohingyas.
Rohingyas frequently face arrest and prosecution for attempting to travel between townships or outside Rakhine, said the rights body.
It also documented how Myanmar authorities beat, extort, and arbitrarily detain Rohingyas at checkpoints and while travelling in Rakhine.
“Myanmar authorities enforce discriminatory restrictions on the right to freedom of movement against Rohingyas through a series of decades-old orders, which remain in effect.”
Myanmar continues to deny Rohingyas the right to nationality. It coerced Rohingyas to accept National Verification Cards, which effectively identify them as “foreigners” and deprive them of access to full citizenship rights, read the statement.
“Rohingya in Myanmar are at grave risk,” said Matthew Smith.
“The government continues to deny any violations against Rohingya and is using the ICJ case to rouse nationalistic, anti-Rohingya sentiment at home, which could easily turn deadly. Provisional measures are certainly needed,” he said.
Fortify Rights called upon the UN member states to support the ICJ case against Myanmar. It suggested that the UN Security Council urgently refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court or create an ad hoc criminal tribunal.
“The international community should support all initiatives for justice as well as seek alternative solutions to the ongoing violations in Myanmar,” said the CEO of the rights body.
“Every possible avenue for justice, accountability, and the protection of rights should be used without delay,” he added.