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U.N. rules that Myanmar must protect Rohingya Muslims, but is it enough?

Sam Brownback, U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom has called the exodus of persecuted Muslims from Myanmar the worst crisis he’s ever seen.

A member of Gambia’s legal team waits for judges to enter the International Court in The Hague, Netherlands, Thursday, Jan. 23, 2020. The United Nations’ top court is scheduled to issue a decision on a request by Gambia to order Myanmar to halt what has been cast as a genocidal campaign against the southeast Asian country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
Peter Dejong, Associated Press

SALT LAKE CITY — In a provisional ruling supporting religious freedom, the United Nations told Myanmar it must protect Rohingya Muslims from further violence and any actions that could be considered genocide at a U.N. court ruling on Thursday at The Hague.

The Rohingya are both a religious and ethnic minority in Myanmar, a primarily Buddhist country on Thailand’s northwest border, but are not recognized as such by the parliamentary republic.

Without the ability to enforce the court’s measures or additional pressure from the international community, it’s not expected that Myanmar will comply.

The U.N. ICJ ruling

The U.N.’s International Court of Justice ordered the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to “take all measures within its power to prevent the commission of all acts” of violence and genocide-like behavior against Rohingya Muslims in the country.

The first of four measures unanimously approved by the court of 17 judges said Myanmar —which is a U.N. member state — could not kill, physically or mentally harm, deliberately destroy the population or prevent births of Rohingya people.

The second measure ensured that the first applied to all military or irregular militias of Myanmar and more clearly identified genocide as an outlawed offense. The final measures required the government to preserve evidence of any violence or allegations of violence and genocide and identified a timeline for Myanmar to report back to the U.N.

Although the U.N. does not have the ability to force Myanmar to comply with the findings, the ruling enables member states to request more actions in Myanmar, according to The Associated Press and The New York Times.

Accusations of genocide

Thursday’s ruling stems from a Nov. 11, 2019, case brought to the court by Gambia — a primarily Muslim country on Africa’s west coast acting on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperations — alleging that Myanmar had violated the convention of the prevention and punishment of the crime of genocide.

Gambia alleges that Myanmar is responsible “for killings, rape and other forms of sexual violence, torture, beatings, cruel treatment, and for the destruction or denial of access to food, shelter and other essentials of life, all with the intent to destroy the Rohingya group.”

Adopted on Dec. 9, 1948, the Genocide Convention codified genocide as a crime to ensure the horrors of World War II would not happen again, according to the U.N. The convention states that genocide can happen during war or peace.

Myanmar denies allegations

Aung San Suu Kyi, the civilian leader of Myanmar, denied Gambia’s accusation in court last month.

The former pro-democracy advocate and Nobel Peace laureate told the court in December that 700,000 Rohingya Muslims had left the country during the military’s war against insurgents, according to The Associated Press. It is estimated that the Muslim population in Myanmar is now less than 3% of the population due to the exodus of the Rohingya to Bangladesh.

“The chances of Aung San Suu Kyi implementing this ruling will be zero unless significant international pressure is applied,” Burma Campaign UK Executive Director Anna Roberts said of the finding, according to a statement posted to Twitter.

U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom

Shortly after his 2018 appointment, the U.S. Ambassador-at-large for International Religious Freedom traveled to the region to evaluate the crisis.

“To my deep dismay, every person I spoke with — man, woman or child — had witnessed firsthand the shooting, stabbing or murder of a close family member,” wrote Ambassador Sam Brownback, after his visit to Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh to see the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees.

Brownback told Politico that the Muslim exodus from Myanmar was the worst crisis he’d ever seen and “When these things happen, the earth should shake. There should be substantial consequences.”