Myanmar junta, ousted government fight for recognition at top UN court

AMSTERDAM/BANGKOK (REUTERS) – Myanmar’s military junta is to take part in hearings at the top United Nations court in The Hague next week despite a complaint from political opponents that this could give it international recognition without legal standing.

The hearings will address a jurisdictional dispute arising from Gambia’s claim filed in 2019 at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, accusing Myanmar of genocide against its minority Muslim Rohingya population.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after a military-led crackdown in 2017 and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh. UN investigators concluded that the military campaign had been executed with “genocidal intent”.

Before the fall of Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian National Unity Government (NUG) to a military coup a year ago, she disputed the genocide allegations against the military brought by Gambia, a mainly Muslim African country backed in this case by the 57-nation Organisation for Islamic Cooperation.

Now, junta representatives are expected to attend virtual hearings at the ICJ – which handles disputes between states – addressing preliminary objections to jurisdiction filed by Myanmar in January 2021. Hearings are set to begin on Monday.

A number of UN bodies have invited junta representatives to meetings even though the Myanmar military has no formal standing at UN headquarters in New York.

The UN General Assembly’s credentials committee decided in December to defer a decision on the matter.

In the meantime, the credentials committee has allowed Mr Kyaw Moe Tun, representative of the government toppled in the Feb 1, 2021, military coup, to remain in post.

Fight for recognition

Members of the NUG said earlier this week that Mr Kyaw Moe Tun, whom the shadow government has also named to represent it in The Hague, is the “only person authorised to engage with the court on behalf of Myanmar”.

“The junta is not the government of Myanmar,” said Mr Christopher Sidoti, a human rights lawyer and former member of the UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar.

“The junta has neither the authority nor the ability to act as the government of Myanmar at home or abroad. But by appearing before the ICJ, that is exactly what it will be attempting to do,” Mr Sidoti told Reuters.

“The Myanmar people have clearly rejected the junta, making it clear the military does not represent them,” said Mr Tun Khin, president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, alluding to a series of popular protests against military rule.

“All in the international community, including ICJ, should hear this, and not lend any form of legitimacy to the junta.”

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