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Home Articles posted by Michael A Becker

The Challenges for the ICJ in the Reliance on UN Fact-Finding Reports in the Case against Myanmar

Published on December 14, 2019        Author: 

 

This past week’s provisional measures hearing in the case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made for a remarkable spectacle (see here, here, and here). Acting as the head of her country’s delegation, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi sat silently as The Gambia’s legal team laid out its case alleging violations of the 1948 Genocide Convention, including brutal descriptions of the atrocities that have been exacted upon the Rohingya minority. When Aung San Suu Kyi addressed the Court herself, she pointedly did not utter the word “Rohingya”—except in a sole reference to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, an insurgent group that Myanmar places at the center of what it frames as an internal armed conflict. Instead, she asked the Court to reject the provisional measures request and to resist the efforts by The Gambia and others to “externalize accountability” for alleged war crimes, leaving Myanmar to addresses these matters itself (CR 2019/19, pp 17-18, paras 24-25) .

In brief, The Gambia accuses Myanmar of engaging in a systematic policy of oppression and persecution against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country, that reaches back decades. Based on the Application, the ICJ will be asked to focus on military campaigns (termed “clearance operations” by Myanmar) carried out against the Rohingya since 2016, which are estimated to have caused more than 10,000 deaths and more than 700,000 people to seek refuge in Bangladesh. This is not the first time that a non-injured State has sought to enforce obligations erga omnes partes at the ICJ, but it is the first such case brought under the Genocide Convention.

I wrote previously about the possibility of an ICJ case against Myanmar and some of the attendant challenges. This post aims to highlight a specific challenge that these proceedings will pose for the Court: The Gambia’s extensive reliance on UN fact-finding reports, combined with the absence of prior or parallel international criminal proceedings relating to these events. Read the rest of this entry…

 

The Situation of the Rohingya: Is there a role for the International Court of Justice?

Published on November 14, 2018        Author: 

In April 2017, the UN Human Rights Council established the Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar to investigate alleged human rights abuses by military and security forces. The Fact-Finding Mission issued an initial summary reportin August 2018, followed by a 444-page report of detailed findingsin September.

Among other things, the Fact-Finding Mission found that after an armed group called the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched a series of small-scale attacks against government military outposts on 25 August 2017, a government campaign aimed at Rohingya communities in Rakhine State resulted in at least 10,000 deaths and caused 725,000 Rohingya to flee, mainly to neighbouring Bangladesh. The Myanmar authorities termed their actions “clearance operations” meant to eliminate a terrorist threat. The Fact-Finding Mission described a campaign of indiscriminate killing and maiming, rampant sexual violence, and widespread destruction of Rohingya villages—a “human rights catastrophe”, but one long in the making because of a history of state-sanctioned discrimination against the Rohingya, a Muslim minority in a predominantly Buddhist country.

The Fact-Finding Mission (which Myanmar refused to admit into its territory) concluded that the actions of Myanmar’s forces constituted crimes against humanity and war crimes. It also found sufficient evidence to warrant the investigation and prosecution of senior officials for the crime of genocide. Among other recommendations, the Fact-Finding Mission urged the UN Security Council to refer the situation to the International Criminal Court (ICC) (Myanmar is not a party to the Rome Statute) or to establish an ad hoc international criminal tribunal. (After the Fact-Finding Mission issued its August report, a Pre-Trial Chamber of the ICC determinedthat the ICC has jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of Rohingya individuals from Myanmar to Bangladesh, and possibly over additional other crimes; ICC prosecutor Fatou Bensouda has since announceda preliminary examination into the situation.) The Fact-Finding Mission also recommended targeted sanctions against government officials and an arms embargo. The Chair of the Fact-Finding Mission, Marzuki Darusman, addressed the Security Council last month (over the objections of China and Russia) to reiterate these conclusions. In the meantime, the UN Human Rights Council responded by establishing a mechanismto collect and preserve evidence of international law violations in Myanmar (discussed here).

The emphasis of the Fact-Finding Mission and the UN Human Rights Council on individual criminal accountability is unsurprising. Many other fact-finding missions and commissions of inquiry that have investigated large-scale human rights violations have been similarly focused—a reflection of the extent to which international criminal law has become the central or even dominant narrative of the international response to so many crises. Indeed, advocacy groups have long campaigned for an ICC-focused response to the Rohingya crisis, alongside the urgent need to provide humanitarian assistance to the thousands of Rohingya refugees now living in difficult conditions in camps across the border in Bangladesh. (A dealnegotiated by UNHCR and UNDP with Myanmar in May 2018 to facilitate the repatriation of the Rohingya has been widely criticizedand remains unimplemented.)

The increased focus on Myanmar in 2018 is to be welcomed. UN officials and some governments have already characterized the conduct of the Myanmar authorities as acts of genocide (see herehere, here, and here), and the reputation and credibility of Myanmar’s de facto leader, the Nobel peace laureate Aung Sung Suu Kyi, has seen a rapid and precipitous decline (see here, here, and here). Yet amidst all of these developments, the almost singular focus on an international criminal justice response to the plight of the Rohingya is striking. The idea of seeking legal accountability at the level of State responsibility has gone largely unmentioned, a further example of what Laurel Fletcher has called the “effacement of state accountability for international crimes”. In that vein, the remainder of this post will consider the prospects for a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Read the rest of this entry…

 

Japan’s New Optional Clause Declaration at the ICJ: A Pre-Emptive Strike?

Published on October 20, 2015        Author: 

On the pitch, the best offense is sometimes a good defense. Alternatively, you can simply decide not to play.

It was reported yesterday that Japan has submitted a new reservation to its declaration recognizing the compulsory jurisdiction of the International Court of Justice (ICJ). The new reservation, which is not yet available on the Court’s website, apparently seeks to exclude disputes relating to living marine resources from the Court’s jurisdiction. According to a fact sheet from Japan’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan considers that such disputes should instead be heard under the dispute settlement provisions of the 1982 UN Convention on the Law of the Sea.

This is an interesting, if not surprising, development. In March 2014, the ICJ held in Whaling in the Antarctic (Australia v. Japan) that Japan’s authorization of special permits for the killing of whales in connection with the research program known as JARPA II did not comply with Article VIII of the International Convention on the Regulation of Whaling (ICRW). Article VIII, paragraph 1, provides that “any Contracting Government may grant to any of its nationals a special permit authorizing that national to kill, take and treat whales for purposes of scientific research subject to such restrictions as to number and subject to such other conditions as the Contracting Government thinks fit”. Whaling that is authorized by special permit under Article VIII is exempt from other restrictions imposed by the ICRW regime, including the moratorium on commercial whaling that has been in place since the 1980s.

Read the rest of this entry…