Rohingya community members from across Australia gathered on Thursday night in Lakemba to show support for the International Court of Justice (ICJ) case brought against Myanmar, alleging an “ongoing genocide” against the Rohingya.
Speakers at the protest, organised by the Burmese Rohingya Community in Australia (BRCA), highlighted the injustices faced by the approximately 600,000 Rohingya remaining in Myanmar, as well as the hardships suffered by those who have had to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.
The case, brought by The Gambia, argues that “mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence” have been used by the Burmese Military in their “clearance operations” of Rakhine State, the traditional home of the Rohingya.
These operations, which have involved “the systematic destruction by fire of villages often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses,” have reportedly forced more than 742,000 people, mainly Rohingya, to flee their homes.
The Muslim Rohingya are a persecuted ethnic and religious minority in majority-Buddhist Myanmar.
Protestors were particularly critical of Myanmar’s defacto civilian leader, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who had been a symbol of the country’s shift to a democratic government. Former BRCA president, Anwar Shah, spoke emotionally about the shame he felt to have been an activist supporting Suu Kyi earlier in his life. Shah stated he felt “betrayed” by Suu Kyi, who has been criticised for her failure to speak out against the genocide.
In her half-hour-long address to the ICJ, Suu Kyi responded on behalf of the Myanmar government to The Gambia’s accusations, admitting that “it cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defence forces, in some cases, in disregard of international humanitarian law.” She also expressed her sympathies for those innocent people who have had to flee their homes due to conflict.
Despite these acknowledgements, however, she was careful not to mention the ethnicity of the majority of those who have had to flee their homes – the Rohingya.
In addressing the involvement of the Burmese Military, Suu Kyi firstly stated that the reported deaths had been due to civilians being caught in the crossfire between the Arakan Army (an armed Buddhist extremist group) and the Myanmar Military, and subsequently between the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), and the Military. She appeared to reduce the tools employed in the “clearance operations” as being part of these exchanges.
Mohammed Junaid, communications officer for the BRCA, told Honi, however, that “Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement was only based on the existence of the Rebel groups,” whereas “The Gambia’s argument has been presented with strong and concrete evidence,” of the Military’s targeting of the Rohingya.
Junaid alleged that these “clearance operations” had been occurring since 2012. Hundreds and thousands of people across Rakhine State have been slaughtered and the rest moved to Internally Displaced Person (IDP) Camps. He said that international media attention only began in 2016 when upwards of 20,000 Rohingya were fleeing to Bangladesh each day. For 3 – 4 months from August 2017, nearly a million people fled the country.
Groups at the rally suggested that the Myanmar government was attempting to hide evidence of their activities in the area by barring Internet access in Rakhine. Junaid stated that his family’s home town in Rakhine had been without internet for over nine months.
In addressing the Court, the Gambian Minister for Justice, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou called on Myanmar to “stop this genocide of its own people.”
He said, “all that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity, and brutality that have shocked and continue to shock our collective conscience.”
The current ICJ case is not the only recent attempt to hold Myanmar’s leaders accountable for the ongoing genocide. In March 2018, Australian lawyers launched a private prosecution attempt against Suu Kyi for crimes against humanity while the leader was in the country for ASEAN talks.
Alison Battison, the human rights lawyer who led the case, told Honi that though the case in Australia was unsuccessful, she saw this as part of a “global movement” to hold the Myanmar government accountable for its actions.
Though other states could join The Gambia in its action against Myanmar, Battison stated that it was “disappointing” that the Australian government seemed unlikely to support the case.
The current ICJ case hearings regard The Gambia’s request for the court to order emergency measures to protect the Rohingya people. A ruling is expected within the following weeks.