Myanmar’s military courts system is incapable of investigating human rights violations or delivering justice, the international court of justice has been told.
Six of Myanmar’s most senior army officers have been accused of genocide by a UN fact-finding mission and recommended for criminal prosecution, the American lawyer Paul Reichler told the tribunal in The Hague on the third and final day of its emergency hearing into accusations the country has committed genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority population.
A photograph of 10 Rohingya Muslim men with their hands tied behind their backs under the guard of Myanmar soldiers was shown to the 17 judges, followed by a second photograph of the men’s blood-stained bodies lying in a ditch.
The session at the United Nations highest court has been convened to consider whether protective “provisional measures” should be imposed to prevent further killings and destruction in Myanmar.
An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late 2016, escaping military clearance operations that a UN fact-finding mission described as “brutal”. It warned that Myanmar was failing to prevent genocide.
The charge that Myanmar’s military carried out mass murder, rape and destruction of Rohingya Muslim communities amounting to genocide has been brought by the Gambia, a west African state that belongs to the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
It alleges there has been “extrajudicial killings … sexual violence, burning of homes and destruction of livestock … calculated to bring about a destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part”.
Once internationally feted as a human rights champion, Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is leading Myanmar’s delegation to the court in The Hague. She has dismissed the allegations as an “incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation”. On Thursday, she was present again in the courtroom listening to further allegations of brutality.
Speaking on behalf of the Gambia, Reichler pointed out that as recently as Tuesday the US had imposed fresh sanctions on senior Myanmar military generals based on evidence assembled by the UN fact-finding mission that warned about genocide and recommended criminal charges.
Foremost among the officers was Gen Min Aung Hlaing, commander-in-chief of Myanmar’s forces, Reichler explained, because they were primarily responsible for carrying out the “clearance operations”.
“Six of Myanmar’s top generals, including the commander-in-chief, Min Aung Hlaing,” Reichler added, “have all been accused of genocide and recommended for prosecution [by the UN fact-finding mission].”
Min Aung Hlaing’s Facebook page, before it was taken down, “described the Bengali [Rohingya] problem as a yet unfinished job which the government in office is taking great care in solving”, Reichler said.
As a consequence of the photographs of the massacre of 10 Rohingya men, he said, the Tatmadaw, as Mynamnar’s armed forces are known, had immediately arrested not the soldiers but the Reuters reporters who had taken the photographs.
The soldiers were eventually required to serve only seven months while the journalists were held for 500 days.