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International Court Rules On Rohingya Genocide Case

DAVID GREENE, HOST:

So is Myanmar conducting a genocidal campaign against Rohingya Muslims?

NOEL KING, HOST:

A court ruling this morning in The Hague is the next step toward answering that question. The International Court of Justice heard a case brought by the African country of Gambia on behalf of an organization of Muslim-majority countries that accuses Myanmar of committing genocide.

GREENE: And let's turn to reporter Michael Sullivan, who's been following this story for some time. He joins us from Thailand.

Hi, Michael.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Hey, David.

GREENE: So can you explain this court decision in The Hague to us and what it means?

SULLIVAN: Well, first of all, I think we need to make clear that this is in no way a final decision on the allegations of genocide. That could take years. But this was about provisional measures requested by Gambia - basically a restraining order compelling Myanmar not to abuse the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar's Rakhine state. And the court granted several of those measures today and said that the Rohingya in Myanmar are still in danger and should be a protected group.

So these measures will apply, in theory, to the couple hundred thousand Rohingya denied the most basic freedoms, including freedom of movement, many living amongst detention camps. And they'll also compel Myanmar to preserve evidence of any alleged crimes committed during the 2017 exodus, including rape, murder and torture. The measures don't really help the roughly 740,000 Rohingya who fled the brutal Myanmar military crackdown in 2017 and are now living in camps in Bangladesh and probably will be for quite some time.

GREENE: So this ruling today comes just over a month after Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, went personally to The Hague to defend her country and its actions. I mean, did that just not have any impact on the court as they thought about what they believe is happening here?

SULLIVAN: It didn't seem to. I mean, she went and, in fact, asked them to drop the case, claiming that no genocide or genocidal acts had taken place. She did admit that, in her words, disproportionate military force may have been used against the Rohingya and civilians killed. But she basically said her government was investigating these claims and asked the court to allow that process to play out.

And in fact, earlier this week, a Myanmar government panel appointed to look into such allegations basically came to the same conclusion - probable war crimes committed by the military but no genocide.

GREENE: Well, I mean, is Myanmar likely to go further and comply with whatever provisional measures this court is calling for given that Myanmar has stonewalled in the past when it's come to this?

SULLIVAN: (Laughter) Yeah, good question. I mean, it acknowledges the authority of the court and therefore is obliged to cooperate. And the timeframe is four months to comply. If that doesn't happen, the matter could be sent to the U.N. Security Council for further action. But Myanmar has a friend there, China, which would probably block any effort to make Myanmar comply, even if it wasn't satisfying the terms of the provisional measures, David.

GREENE: Reporter Michael Sullivan. Thanks so much, Michael. We always appreciate it.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.