'Be warned, we are watching': Myanmar's leaders put on notice by UN's top court

ICJ – The International Court of Justice at the Hague has just put Myanmar’s leaders on notice. And that includes Aung San Suu Kyi.

Today’s ruling effectively means: be warned, we are watching you.

The United Nation’s highest court has ordered the Myanmar government to “take all measures” to protect its Rohingya people, who “remain at serious risk of genocide.”

In 2017, more than 700,000 Muslim Rohingya were forced, by a clearance campaign spearheaded by the Myanmar army, to flee the country and take refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.

An estimated 600,000 Rohingya remained in Myanmar and by ordering the government there to take “provisional measures” to protect them, the UN court is issuing a restraining order.

The ruling is a rejection of Aung San Suu Kyi’s defence of her country.

During a three-day hearing at the Hague last month she appeared in court as Myanmar’s defender-in-chief.

Aung San Suu Kyi's defence of the military horrified human rights campaigners. Credit: AP

She argued that what happened in 2017 fell short of genocide and that Myanmar should be left to deal with any human rights abuses through the court martial system.

Her defence of the military horrified human rights campaigners who accuse her of indifference to the plight of the Rohingya.

Today’s ruling by the court is an interim one. A verdict on whether or not genocide occurred in 2017 may be years away.

But the UN’s top court has just inflicted yet more damage on Aung San Suu Kyi’s already tarnished reputation.

Her decision to leap to Myanmar’s defence has widespread support among the country’s Buddhist majority, who hate the Rohingya.

She may have done it with an eye on elections due later this year.

The International Court of Justice has no power to implement its ruling but should Myanmar’s leaders ignore the court order they may have to answer for it.

The court’s finding that the Rohingya “remain at serious risk of genocide” means that if they are the victims of serious human rights abuses in the future, then it’s not inconceivable that Aung San Suu Kyi might find herself back at the Hague – not as an advocate, but as a defendant.