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Genocide case against Myanmar to move forward at International Court of Justice

By Pedro Oliveira Jr.
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Armed anti-riot police stand guard as demonstrators flash the three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance, during a protest against the military, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, in February 2021. File Photo by EPA-EFE
Armed anti-riot police stand guard as demonstrators flash the three-finger salute, a symbol of resistance, during a protest against the military, in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, in February 2021. File Photo by EPA-EFE

July 22 (UPI) -- Myanmar will stand trial on accusations of genocide against the country's Rohingya minority, the United Nation's highest court ruled Friday.

The country's military, which seized power in a coup last year, had asked the International Court of Justice to dismiss the case, claiming the court lacked jurisdiction.

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But on Friday the ICJ moved forward the case, filed by the Gambia, which accuses Myanmar's military of conducting brutal "clearance operations" of the Rohingya in 2016 and 2017 -- forcing more than 700,000 people to flee into Bangladesh.

"The genocidal acts committed during these operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group ... by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses," says Gambia's complaint.

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U.N.'s human rights officials have demanded action and in March produced a report saying the military has shown "flagrant disregard for human life," deliberately targeting civilians in what may amount to war crimes.

"The appalling breadth and scale of violations of international law suffered by the people of Myanmar demand a firm, unified and resolute international response," said Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations high commissioner for human rights.

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Multiple soldiers who partook in the carnage have said in interviews that they were under orders to "torture, loot and kill innocent people."

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"We were ordered to round up all the men and shoot them dead," one such soldier told the BBC. "The saddest thing was we had to kill elderly people and a woman."

Another soldier, speaking from a safehouse, said they targeted "men, women and children indiscriminately."

"The order was to shoot anything you see," Corporal Aung told the BBC.

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They destroyed some 70 houses -- chanting "burn! burn!" -- and torched a home where they found a teenage girl trapped behind iron bars.

"It was heartbreaking to hear," Aung said, recounting how the girl screamed in agony as she died. "We heard her voice repeatedly for about 15 minutes while the house was on fire."

While the case against Myanmar continues at the ICJ, the Rohingya remain under brutal oppression today.

"For a year and a half the case has been delayed and every day the genocide continues," Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, told The Guardian.

"Laws and policies designed to make life unbearable and drive Rohingya out of Myanmar are part of the genocide and continue despite provisional measures ordered by the court," Khin said.

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