“In particular, killing members of the group [of approximately 600,000 Rohingya who have not fled Myanmar to the Cox’s Bazaar refugee camps in Bangladesh], causing serious bodily or mental harm to members of the group, deliberately inflicting on the group conditions of life calculated to bring about its physical destruction in whole or in part, and imposing measures intended to prevent terror within the group,” Yusuf said.
Myanmar should also, in relation to the Rohingya still in the country, “ensure that its military, as well as any irregular army units… do not commit any act described in point 1 [of the order] .. all acts of conspiracy to commit genocide, of direct and public incitement to commit genocide, of attempt to commit genocide, or of complicity in genocide”.
Thirdly, the court unanimously ordered Myanmar “to take effective measures to prevent the destruction and ensure the preservation of evidence related to allegations of acts [of genocide]”.
Finally, Myanmar must report back to the court within four months, and then every six months after that until the conclusion of the case, on the measures it has taken.
Moments before the court began reading its ruling, the Financial Times published an article by Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi in which she said war crimes may have been committed against Rohingya Muslims but that refugees had exaggerated the abuses against them.
Suu Kyi, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign to restore democracy in her country, had defended the case in person in the Hague. She denied genocide had taken place and insisted the ICJ had no jurisdiction to hear the case.
The Gambia’s case was brought in November with the support of the Organisation of Islamic Co-operation.
“The ICJ order to Myanmar to take concrete steps to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya is a landmark step to stop further atrocities against one of the world’s most persecuted people,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director of New York-based Human Rights Watch.
“Concerned governments and U.N. bodies should now weigh in to ensure that the order is enforced as the genocide case moves forward.”
The African nation asked the court to order provisional measures for Myanmar to stop its security forces committing “all acts that amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide” against the Rohingya including killing, rape and the destruction of homes and villages.
Nearly a million people are living in makeshift refugee camps in Cox’s Bazaar, Bangladesh, just across the border from Myanmar.
An estimated 730,000 of them, mostly Muslims, fled after August 2017 to escape a concerted campaign by the Myanmar army of violence, ethnic cleansing and rape targeting the Muslim people.
Survivors of Myanmar’s military operation against the Rohingya, including children as young as 13 years old, have told the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age about the atrocities committed against them and their families.
The United Nations special envoy on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee has said that what has taken place has the “hallmarks of genocide”.
Earlier on Thursday, Ms Lee called on the global community to keep the Rohingya’s plight “front of mind” so that Myanmar did not avoid responsibility for its actions.
She expressed disappointment at being blocked from access to Myanmar to investigate the situation on the ground and criticised China and Russia for stopping UN efforts to apply pressure to Myanmar.
“Just come and look at Cox’s Bazaar, that’s not fabricated…I am hoping that, especially China, with its attempt to come one of the top global leaders – you cannot become a global leader without respecting human rights,” she said.
A so-called “Independent Commission of Enquiry”, appointed by Myanmar’s government, said earlier this week that Myanmar’s security forces was guilty of abuses but that it had found no evidence of genocide.
Thursday’s ruling dealt only with Gambia’s request for so-called preliminary measures, the equivalent of a restraining order for states. The court is expected to take years to issue a final ruling in the case.
James Massola is south-east Asia correspondent based in Jakarta. He was previously chief political correspondent, based in Canberra. He has been a Walkley and Quills finalist on three occasions, won a Kennedy Award for outstanding foreign correspondent and is the author of The Great Cave Rescue.