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Home EJIL Analysis ICJ Indicates Provisional Measures in the Myanmar Genocide Case

ICJ Indicates Provisional Measures in the Myanmar Genocide Case

Published on January 23, 2020        Author: 
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Today the International Court unanimously issued its provisional measures order in the case brought by The Gambia against Myanmar under the Genocide Convention. The order is available here, the three separate opinions here. For our previous coverage of the case, see here. The fact that the Court ordered provisional measures and did so unanimously is obviously a win for The Gambia, and for the Rohingya cause more generally, but its impact should not be overstated. A couple of quick noteworthy points:

(1) The Court adopts a rather flexible approach to the issue of plausibility, and relies mainly on the reports of UN fact-finding commission to support the issuance of provisional measures (on the fact-finding commission reports see in particular Mike Becker’s earlier post). The Court specifically rejects Myanmar’s argument that a more rigorous standard of proof should be required at the provisional measures stage of a genocide claim (para. 56). However that doesn’t mean at all that Gambia will succeed on the merits (it likely won’t, as I’ll explain below).

(2) The Court indicated all but two of the provisional measures that Gambia had requested, but it’s interesting how exactly it did so.

(3) First, the principal measures it indicated, at para. 86 (1) and (2), effectively replicate state obligations under the Genocide Convention, i.e. they do not strictly legally speaking add anything new to the corpus of obligations that Myanmar already has. Second, in indicating these measures the Court omitted the references to more specific acts (e.g. rape or the burning of villages) from Gambia’s request (compare at para. 5) – basically the Court didn’t want to give the impression that any of such specific acts were proven, and the final language is more palatable and diplomatic.

Third, the Court specifically ordered Myanmar (para. 86(3)) to ‘take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence,’ but again it avoided the more explicit and specific language from Gambia’s request. Fourth, the Court rather laconically rejected Gambia’s (late) request for a specific measure requiring Myanmar to provide access to UN investigators, saying simply (para. 62) that it ‘does not consider that its indication is necessary in the circumstances of the case.’ This is hardly a surprising result, bearing in mind sovereignty concerns and the intrusiveness of such a measure, but the paucity of the reasoning is difficult to justify. Fifth, the Court (rather surprisingly) decided not to indicate the general, innocuous non-aggravation measure, saying that it was unnecessary due to the specific measures that it did indicate (para. 83). Finally, the Court ordered Myanmar to provide it with periodic reports on its implementation of the measures indicated – this has the potential for some bite, but obviously it remains to be seen with what rigour the Court and the parties will observe this requirement.

(4) Bearing in mind how it handled the prima facie jurisdiction analysis in this order, it seems extremely unlikely that the Court will dismiss this case at the jurisdictional stage. I see no reasonable way in which Myanmar could win on jurisdiction, but its contestation of jurisdiction will of course prolong the Court’s examination of the case.

(5) That said, the most likely outcome of the merits stage is still that Myanmar will win, i.e. that Gambia will not be able to provide clear and convincing evidence that genocide (as opposed to crimes against humanity or war crimes) were committed against the Rohingya – basically the same outcome as in the Bosnian and the Croatian genocide cases. The evidentiary requirements were set so high in those cases (in my view rightly so), that they could not be met even with the existence of a fully-fledged international criminal tribunal that could reliably establish the facts. The Court will not have the luxury of the ICTY’s assistance in this case, and once counsel for Myanmar start probing the specific evidence behind the UN fact-finding reports bit by little bit it seems probable that they’ll raise sufficient doubt as to the existence of genocidal intent. But this outcome, even though in my view highly likely, is still many years down the line.

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2 Responses

  1. Great opinion.

    The reference to the UN Fact-Finding mission suggests a developing convergence between judicial and non-judicial mechanisms in the transitional justice.
    On the other hand,i find the order on provisional reporting quite ambiguous.

  2. Kishor Dere

    It is a welcome decision. Humanism must prevail over all other ‘isms’. Let us hope that those who have supported this initiative, will also respect rights of followers of all other religions in their respective territories. That can usher in an era of equality and equal respect for all without state patronage of any one religion anywhere in the world. Is it hoping against hope? Is it asking for the moon?

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