Why the ICJ ruling won't save Rohingya Muslims
Immediately following the international criminal court's verdict, the Aung San Suu Kyi led government responded with typical defiance, claiming "there's been no genocide in Rakhine," while accusing human rights organisations of creating a "distorted picture."
Two days later, government troops shelled the Rohingya village of Kin Taung in the middle of the night, killing two women, one of whom was pregnant, and injuring seven others, according to Maung Kyaw Zan, a national member of parliament for Buthidaung township in northern Rakhine state.
"There was no fighting, they just shot artillery to a village without a battle," he told Reuters.
Myanmar's stubborn refusal to accept the unanimous decision handed down by the 17 judges on the ICJ's panel serves as an alarming reminder that security and stability remain distant and elusive aspirations for the 1.2 million Rohingya refugees who remain homeless on the border of Bangladesh and beyond.
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Ro Nay San Lwin, a Rohingya genocide survivor and human rights activist, told The New Arab that the international community should interpret Saturday's shelling of Kim Taung village as a clear "signal that Myanmar is not going to follow the ICJ's provisional measures ruling" and that its military will continue "committing genocidal acts" and do nothing to ease the daily life of the Rohingya.
"The court and international community need to move a step forward to take serious action against Myanmar," he said.
The ICJ's ruling, while commendable and historic, does little to change realities on the ground for not only 1.3 million Rohingya refugees, but also the 200,000 who remain trapped in what can only be described as a "genocide zone," or the northernmost part of Rakhine state.
If they flee towards Bangladesh, they risk stepping on one of the tens of thousands of anti-personnel landmines planted by the military. If they flee southwards, the same soldiers who hunted them in 2017-18 pick them off with their long guns as though they were fish in a barrel.
|If they flee towards Bangladesh, they risk stepping on one of the tens of thousands of anti-personnel landmines planted by the military|
"We have no freedom of movement. We cannot even go from one village to another village, because we are surrounded by military checkpoints and landmines," Mohammed Salam, chairman of a local Rohingya Welfare Committee in Rakhine State, told The New Arab via phone several months ago.
Dr Azeem Ibrahim, a research professor at the US Army War College and author of The Rohingyas, says that while he can't be sure whether or not Saturday's attack is a direct response to the ICJ ruling, "it clearly demonstrates the complete disregard the military has for Rohingya citizen as they irresponsibly fire shells into villages when there is no evidence of fighting."
"I believe this further confirms that the remaining Rohingya are at serious risk of a full scale genocide from the Myanmar military, which is precisely the unanimous conclusion reached by the 17 judges at the ICJ. I hope this latest episode is relayed to the UN Security Council on whom the onus now falls to enforce the ICJ decision. History will show that they have had ample warnings of an imminent genocide."
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That the military has deliberately and methodically sought to annihilate the Rohingya is beyond dispute, with the United Nations describing the most recent crackdown as "textbook ethnic cleansing." Doctors Without Borders (MSF) has estimated that more than 10,000 Rohingya were killed and thousands more injured in the period spanning August 25 to the start of December 2017, forcing more than one million to flee for their lives.
"They cut the little children's bodies into pieces and took the men aside and killed them all. Then they took all the dead bodies and threw them into the fire. We lived near where this happened so we saw it all from our houses," recounted a female survivor who witnessed the military's assault on her neighbouring village on November 26, 2017.
|They cut the little children's bodies into pieces and took the men aside and killed them all. Then they took all the dead bodies and threw them into the fire|
The military's ransacking of Rohingya villages also invited and incited a wave of supporting attacks from local Buddhist militias, resulting in mass killings and sexual violence on an industrial scale level, with aid agencies documenting more than 18,000 incidences of rape.
"The military would come every 15 days... Previously they only came in the village to take beautiful girls. Now they rape everyone, old women and young girls," a female survivor told MSF investigators.
With hatred for the Muslim minority remaining at 2016 and 2017 levels, largely due to the proliferation of anti-Muslim conspiracy theories and propaganda on social media and because of the prominence of extremist Buddhist monks in the capital Yangon and other parts of the country, the soil remains fertile for further victimisation and violence.
Despite these atrocities and the desperate pleas of more than one million Rohingya, the international community has stubbornly resisted any serious attempt to provide security, comfort, and a long-term solution to those trapped along the border of Bangladesh and within Rakhine state.
|The military would come every 15 days... Previously they only came in the village to take beautiful girls. Now they rape everyone, old women and young girls|
The ICJ's ruling should be a seen as a welcome change to the world's passivity, but it should also be viewed clearly for what it is – a starting point, one that can and should provide the impetus for a multilateral commitment to guarantee the Rohingya security, repatriation, citizenship, welfare, and reparations.
Anything less will leave them at the mercy of a military that remains hell bent on their annihilation.
Follow him on Twitter: @cjwerleman