By ANDREW NACHEMSON and LUN MIN MANG | FRONTIER

YANGON — The International Court of Justice ruled today to impose most of the provisional measures on Myanmar that were requested by The Gambia, which demand that Myanmar take action to prevent future acts of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim community.

“The court concludes that the conditions required by its statute for it to indicate provisional measures are met. It is therefore necessary, pending its final decision, for the court to indicate certain measures in order to protect the rights claimed by The Gambia,” said ICJ President Mr Abdulqawi Yusuf.

The Gambia has accused Myanmar of committing genocide against its Muslim Rohingya minority, a position supported by many independent rights observers but denied by the Myanmar government.

The court methodically examined the Myanmar defence team’s arguments to throw out the case, dismissing them one by one. First, the ICJ concluded that The Gambia receiving support from other nations or international organisations does not disqualify it from bringing a complaint. 

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The court also confirmed the existence of a dispute, which Myanmar denied, given The Gambia’s accusations of genocide and Myanmar’s public denials. The ICJ argued that all signatories to the Genocide Convention have “common interest” in preventing genocide and impunity for genocide.

“Any state party to the Genocide Convention, not only an especially affected state may invoke the responsibility of another state party,” Yusuf said.

Throughout the proceedings, Yusuf emphasised that the court was not making a decision on whether Myanmar committed genocide, but only on whether provisional measures should be invoked.

By imposing the measures, the ICJ only indicated that it’s “plausible” that genocide occurred, that there’s a link between The Gambia’s claims and the provisional measures requested, and that the Rohingya are still in danger of “irreperable harm”.

“The court is of the opinion that the Rohingya in Myanmar remain extremely vulnerable,” Yusuf said.

The provisional measures require that Myanmar take steps to prevent genocide from occuring in the future, ensure that the military or its affiliates do not commit further acts of genocide, demand that Myanmar not destroy any evidence of genocide, and that Myanmar provide regular updates on its progress on these measures. The first report must be submitted within four months, with subsequent reports filed every six months thereafter until the case is completed.

Yusuf went on to say that Myanmar’s own steps in ensuring accountability for crimes committed and creating a safe situation for the Rohingya in Rakhine State have been insufficient, going directly against the government’s claims that it is capable of administering its own justice.

While State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi did not attend today’s hearing, she published an op-ed in the Financial Times shortly before it began, asking for the international community “to give Myanmar time” to pursue justice domestically.

She touted the recent submission of a report by the Myanmar government-appointed Independent Commission of Enquiry, which has been criticised since its inception for a lack of independence. She claimed a “fair reading” of the report will show that international justice can become “attached to specific testimonies of victimisation”. Aung San Suu Kyi also criticised the UN’s Independent Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar’s reliance on testimony from refugees in Bangladesh, which she said could have been “inaccurate” or “exaggerated”.

The ICOE report, however, was widely dismissed as a whitewash that covered up the government’s crimes rather than investigating them. For example, the report found no evidence of sexual violence, despite the UN Fact Finding Mission and other independent investigations finding significant evidence. 

While the government attempted to whip up nationalist sentiment by portraying the genocide accusations as an attack on the entire country, the narrative did not wash with over 100 civil society organisations.

In a rare show of public defiance, 103 domestic groups put out a statement yesterday welcoming the case. “We understand very clearly that the ICJ case against Myanmar is directed toward those responsible for using political power and military might, and not to the people of Myanmar,” the statement says.

After the hearing, Daw Nang Pu, the founder of the Kachin State Women’s Network, one of the statement’s signatories, told Frontier that the ICJ ruling was expected.

“This is because those in power have a history of committing many grave crimes in ethnic areas,” she said. “The evidence presented by the Independent Fact-Finding Mission is so compelling that it cannot be denied.”

She also urged the government to fully comply with the provisional measures and to report as instructed to the court.

Positive reactions from international rights groups poured in following the decision, including a statement from Burma Campaign UK. “The priority now is to apply pressure on Aung San Suu Kyi and the military to implement the Court’s decision. The chances of Aung San Suu Kyi implementing this ruling will be zero unless significant international pressure is applied,” said executive director Ms Anna Roberts.

While the legal order is binding, Myanmar can simply ignore it. The Security Council would then have the authority to enforce the order, but China would be expected to block it.

Immediately prior to the decision, Ms Yanghee Lee, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar gave her end of mission statement from Dhaka, speaking from the Bangladesh capital because she has been banned from entering Myanmar. She declined to comment in detail on the ICJ ruling before the decision was made, but said it was a “historic day in the quest for justice”.

She said that what she has seen in her time observing Myanmar has “quashed the optimism” she once felt towards the country’s democratic transition, but noted that Myanmar can still “change the course”. She called for the ICOE report to be made public in its entirety.

To the Rohingya she said: “You are my inspiration. In the face of such adversity you have come together in a peaceful and clear message you want to go home with your basic human rights. You must not give up hope.”

Ko Khin Maung, executive director of the Rohingya Youth Association, said he was happy that provisional measures were imposed and called it a “victory for every ethnic minority”. He said most Rohingya in the refugee camps in Bangladesh were unable to watch due to internet restrictions, but said that he and others are helping spread the word.

“I feel today I got justice,” he said, adding that he looks forward to the trial ahead.

“It does not matter if it will take a long time or not, we are happy. More than three years we are living in Bangladesh. If we wait more than ten years it does not matter. We need justice and freedom and our nationality. We will be patient,” he said.

Dr Myo Nyunt, a spokesperson for the ruling National League of Democracy, said the decision was not a surprise. “That’s something that we anticipated. Therefore, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi previously said ‘whatever happens, let’s face it together’. We have yet to calibrate the consequences the provisional measures would have. Only after that, would I comment further,” he said.

By AFP

DAVOS — US President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration was preparing to add a “couple of countries” to the controversial list of states whose citizens are subject to travel bans or severe restrictions on entry to the United States.

“We are adding a couple of countries to it. We have to be safe. Our country has to be safe,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that the names of the new countries would be announced “very shortly”.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the administration planned to add seven countries including Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and others in Africa and Asia.

It said the other nations being considered for new rules were Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania.

These countries would not necessarily face blanket bans on US travel but could see certain types of visas curtailed, the paper said, quoting administration officials.

Some of these countries could see their nationals barred from participating in a visa lottery programme, which Trump has repeatedly railed against, saying he would prefer a skilled immigration policy along the lines of the systems in Canada or Australia.

Unlike the nations covered by the current ban, most of these new additions do not have Muslim-majority populations.

The paper added that administration officials were still debating whether to include one or two of the countries, and the new list would be announced on Monday.

Broad powers

Trump repeatedly promised during his election campaign to implement a complete ban on Muslims entering the US, and announced his first package of travel bans and restrictions shortly after taking office in January 2017.

The move outraged critics and was struck down by a federal court which ruled it amounted to religious discrimination. The administration moved a second version of the policy in March 2017, which was struck down again for similar reasons.

But the third version of the policy was upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2018 in a 5-4 ruling that affirmed the president had broad power to set immigration policy based on national security justifications.

The countries currently covered are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea, and political officials from Venezuela. The administration argued the inclusion of non-Muslim majority countries proved the policy was not driven by religious animus.

Speaking to reporters in Jamaica, where he is on a regional tour, Secretary of State Mr Mike Pompeo said it was the administration’s policy “to make sure that we are getting security right, to make sure that we work with every country to have processes in place” that ensured the security of the US.

The Journal’s reporting, including the naming of seven new countries, ties in with earlier reporting by US media, including BuzzFeed News which said earlier this month it had obtained a draft presidential proclamation about the expansion, but names of the countries were left blank.

By AFP

THE HAGUE — The UN’s top court will announce today if it will allow a case accusing Myanmar of genocide against Rohingya Muslims to go ahead and if it will impose emergency measures to stop further violence.

The ruling by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) comes days after a Myanmar commission concluded that some soldiers likely committed war crimes against the minority group but that the military was not guilty of genocide.

Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi travelled to The Hague in December to personally defend her Buddhist-majority country against the allegations over the bloody 2017 crackdown against the Rohingya.

The mainly-Muslim African nation of The Gambia brought the case against Myanmar after 740,000 Rohingya fled over the border into Bangladesh, carrying accounts of widespread rape, arson and mass killings.

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“The first question is whether or not the Court will declare to have jurisdiction. My guess is that that will be the case, although you never know,” Willem van Genugten, professor emeritus of international law at Tilburg University, told AFP.

If the court approves so-called “provisional measures” sought by The Gambia those “might, next to that, entail a lot of things, from very general to very specific. That remains to be seen as well.”

‘Great authority’

The ruling on Thursday is just the first step in a legal battle that is likely to take years at the ICJ, which was set up after World War II to rule on disputes between nations.

The Gambia brought the case with the backing of the 57-nation Organisation for Islamic Cooperation. Canada and the Netherlands have since also lent their support.

At the December hearing, The Gambia alleged Myanmar had breached the 1948 UN Genocide Convention, asking for special steps to prevent the “serious and imminent risk of genocide recurring” and to stop Myanmar destroying any evidence.

While the UN’s top judicial organ has no power to enforce orders for provisional measures, the “significance… shouldn’t be written off”, said Cecily Rose, assistant professor in international law at Leiden University.

“The court’s orders and judgments tend to carry relatively great authority or legitimacy. Even though the situation in Myanmar is highly political and fragile, international law still plays a role by informing decision-making among international actors,” she told AFP.

Myanmar might for example be asked to report back regularly to the court on its compliance with the order, Rose added.

‘Killing of innocent villagers’

Aung San Suu Kyi is not expected to attend Wednesday’s ruling. 

In The Hague in December, she argued her country was capable of investigating any allegations of abuse and warned that the case could reignite the crisis.

On Monday a Myanmar-appointed “Independent Commission of Enquiry” went the furthest that any investigation by the country has gone so far in accepting that atrocities occurred.

The panel said some security personnel had used disproportionate force and committed war crimes and serious human rights violations, including the “killing of innocent villagers and destruction of their homes”.

But it ruled out genocide, saying: “There is insufficient evidence to argue, much less conclude, that the crimes committed were undertaken with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical (sic), racial or religious group.”

Myanmar has always maintained the crackdown by the armed forces, or Tatmadaw, was justified to root out Rohingya insurgents after a series of attacks left a dozen security personnel dead.

A miserable existence in Rakhine State has motivated many Rohingya to seek a better life elsewhere, but they face discriminatory immigration laws, cheating brokers and possible prison sentences.

This week, in partnership with Frontier magazine, Doh Athan speaks with Rohingya people who have risked everything to find a better life outside Myanmar.

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By AFP

YANGON — LGBT activists in Myanmar campaigning to decriminalise same-sex relations are urging thousands of people to paint their little finger pink as they try to highlight the issue ahead of elections later this year.

Although space is opening up for the LGBT community in the conservative country, same-sex relations are still illegal, a legacy of former colonial power Britain.

At the “pink pinky” campaign launch on Wednesday, held ahead of a Pride party in Yangon this weekend expected to attract more than 10,000 people, rights groups called for the ban to be repealed and for an anti-discrimination law to be enacted.

Fronting the movement is Myanmar’s Miss Universe contestant, who came out publicly as lesbian late last year, the first to do so in the event’s history.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

“We need legal protection, we need legal recognition and we need legal reform,” Hla Myat Tun, deputy director of the group Colors Rainbow, told AFP.

This year’s Pride is the country’s sixth edition and biggest so far, spanning three weekends and multiple locations across the commercial hub, with organisers calling for attendees to show support with their hands.

The country is likely to hold elections in November and activists have been working closely with counterparts in India, where the country’s highest court revoked a similar law in 2018.

Hla Myat Tun said the victory had huge ramifications for Myanmar too. “What are the lessons, what things can we learn, what things can we apply here?”

Miss Universe beauty queen Swe Zin Htet will on Saturday receive the Pride’s “Hero” award for an outstanding contribution to the LGBT cause.

The 21-year-old said coming out was not easy but it was the right decision, and “so many people” had offered her support.

A prominent suicide of a gay man last year blamed on workplace bullying cast a spotlight on the long-marginalised community in Myanmar.

In 2015, hundreds of fishermen were rescued from slavery aboard fishing trawlers in Indonesia. But more than four years later, they have not received the compensation they were promised.

This week, in partnership with Frontier magazine, Doh Athan explores the ongoing struggles of human trafficking victims years after being freed.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

By AFP

DAVOS — US President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration was preparing to add a “couple of countries” to the controversial list of states whose citizens are subject to travel bans or severe restrictions on entry to the United States.

“We are adding a couple of countries to it. We have to be safe. Our country has to be safe,” he said at the World Economic Forum in Davos, adding that the names of the new countries would be announced “very shortly”.

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier that the administration planned to add seven countries including Nigeria, Africa’s most populous country, and others in Africa and Asia.

It said the other nations being considered for new rules were Belarus, Eritrea, Kyrgyzstan, Myanmar, Sudan and Tanzania.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

These countries would not necessarily face blanket bans on US travel but could see certain types of visas curtailed, the paper said, quoting administration officials. 

Some of these countries could see their nationals barred from participating in a visa lottery programme, which Trump has repeatedly railed against, saying he would prefer a skilled immigration policy along the lines of the systems in Canada or Australia.

Unlike the nations covered by the current ban, most of these new additions do not have Muslim-majority populations. 

The paper added that administration officials were still debating whether to include one or two of the countries, and the new list would be announced on Monday.

Broad powers

Trump repeatedly promised during his election campaign to implement a complete ban on Muslims entering the US, and announced his first package of travel bans and restrictions shortly after taking office in January 2017.

The move outraged critics and was struck down by a federal court which ruled it amounted to religious discrimination. The administration moved a second version of the policy in March 2017, which was struck down again for similar reasons.

But the third version of the policy was upheld by the US Supreme Court in June 2018 in a 5-4 ruling that affirmed the president had broad power to set immigration policy based on national security justifications.

The countries currently covered are Iran, Libya, Somalia, Syria, Yemen and North Korea, and political officials from Venezuela. The administration argued the inclusion of non-Muslim majority countries proved the policy was not driven by religious animus.

Speaking to reporters in Jamaica, where he is on a regional tour, Secretary of State Mr Mike Pompeo said it was the administration’s policy “to make sure that we are getting security right, to make sure that we work with every country to have processes in place” that ensured the security of the US.

The Journal’s reporting, including the naming of seven new countries, ties in with earlier reporting by US media, including BuzzFeed News which said earlier this month it had obtained a draft presidential proclamation about the expansion, but names of the countries were left blank.

Despite the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, armed groups in Tanintharyi Region continue to bury landmines in their territory, and civilians are paying the price.

This week, in partnership with Mon News Agency, Doh Athan speaks with innocent villages whose lives have been destroyed by landmines. Listen in Burmese and Mon.

Burmese version:

Mon version:

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

By AFP

YANGON — LGBT activists in Myanmar campaigning to decriminalise same-sex relations are urging thousands of people to paint their little finger pink as they try to highlight the issue ahead of elections later this year.

Although space is opening up for the LGBT community in the conservative country, same-sex relations are still illegal, a legacy of former colonial power Britain.

At the “pink pinky” campaign launch on Wednesday, held ahead of a Pride party in Yangon this weekend expected to attract more than 10,000 people, rights groups called for the ban to be repealed and for an anti-discrimination law to be enacted.

Fronting the movement is Myanmar’s Miss Universe contestant, who came out publicly as lesbian late last year, the first to do so in the event’s history.

“We need legal protection, we need legal recognition and we need legal reform,” Hla Myat Tun, deputy director of the group Colors Rainbow, told AFP.

This year’s Pride is the country’s sixth edition and biggest so far, spanning three weekends and multiple locations across the commercial hub, with organisers calling for attendees to show support with their hands.

The country is likely to hold elections in November and activists have been working closely with counterparts in India, where the country’s highest court revoked a similar law in 2018.

Hla Myat Tun said the victory had huge ramifications for Myanmar too. “What are the lessons, what things can we learn, what things can we apply here?”

Miss Universe beauty queen Swe Zin Htet will on Saturday receive the Pride’s “Hero” award for an outstanding contribution to the LGBT cause.

The 21-year-old said coming out was not easy but it was the right decision, and “so many people” had offered her support.

A prominent suicide of a gay man last year blamed on workplace bullying cast a spotlight on the long-marginalised community in Myanmar.