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The Maastricht Diplomat

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Putting a Stop to Ethnic Cleansing in a growingly realist world: The Rohingya and the ICC

The International Criminal Court (ICC) has been examining the ongoing situation concerning the livelihoods of Rohingya people in Burma, currently known as Myanmar, since 2018. However, given that almost 6 years later the sanctions have had little to no effect in changing course of the genocide, it is clear that different tools need to be used to achieve efficiency in stopping the genocide and discrimination of the Rohingya people. Making matters worse, the home minister of Myanmar has stated in a press release on September 19, 2022 that Bangladesh is a peaceful country that does not want its peace to be disrupted thus it will not allow any more Rohingya people from Myanmar to enter its territory.

Who are the Rohingya?

The Rohingya are one of the largest ethnic minorities in Myanmar. They are also one of the most discriminated groups of people in the world. Myanmar has a track record of excluding the Rohingya people going as far as refusing to recognise them as people of the country. This is despite their generations long existence in the region. Instead, Myanmar sees the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

What is the International Criminal Court doing so far?

In September 2018, the ICC's Pre-Trial Chamber I determined that the Court may exercise jurisdiction over the alleged deportation of the Rohingya people from Myanmar to Bangladesh as a crime against humanity. This is possible because Bangladesh, where the Rohingya have sought refuge, is a State Party to the Rome Statute and the deportation may have been part of a broader attack against the Rohingya population.

In November 2019, the ICC was authorized to proceed with an investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against the Rohingya people. The investigation covers a range of alleged crimes, including deportation, persecution, and other inhumane acts. Since, the ICC has been conducting its investigation under these scopes into the crimes committed against the Rohingya people. In June 2020, the ICC received a detailed report from a fact-finding mission established by the United Nations Human Rights Council, which documented the crimes against the Rohingya people in Myanmar. However, despite the crimes against the Rohingya now being recognized as a fact, the ethnic cleansing of these people in Myanmar is still ongoing and has not slowed down.

It is true that The International Criminal Court’s investigation and involvement in this situation of the Rohingya people is a significant step. However, it is also clear that the current liberal international system tools lack competence and executive power to achieve progress that is not only on paper. The Rohingya people have faced decades of discrimination before the current situation. Both the ICC and the UN however, only became involved after the genocide began.

The current situation as of 2021

Nowadays, Myanmar is controlled by a military coup and groups such as the Human Rights Watch have widely documented the increase of crimes against humanity and war crimes since the coup began.

Based on the current reports, the government is currently ran in a militia style with little to no democratic value and it is causing the civil pro-democracy actors to essentially wage war on their own government.

The European Union (EU) has been vocal in condemning Myanmar since early 2020s. This condemnation has only gotten more intense since the installation of military rule in the country. Some member states, like France, even set an example by backing EU economic sanctions and travel bans on senior leaders and conglomerates that fund the current Myanmar government and its activities. Some other EU member states have also been very vocal and tried taking action in their own capacities. Germany has provided substantial humanitarian aid to the Rohingya people, both in Myanmar and in refugee camps in Bangladesh. In 2019, Germany also imposed sanctions on several Myanmar officials for human rights abuses. the Netherlands initiated legal proceedings against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), accusing the country of violating the Genocide Convention with its treatment of the Rohingya. Important to disclose that Sweden has provided significant humanitarian aid to the Rohingya people, and in 2018, the country's foreign minister called for the Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the ICC. Yet, as mentioned previously, no progress has been made, and moreover, the current military government of Myanmar made it almost impossible for the Rohingya to receive any of the help being sent.

That said, it seems that to give the Rohingya their home back would require Bangladesh to have significant leverage over Myanmar and this is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Bangladesh does not recognize the Rohingya as refugees. Instead, Bangladesh sees the Rohingya as displaced Myanmar people. Having said that, an international effort with Bangladesh could be successful. However, regional powers such as China, Japan, and India prioritize their own geoeconomic and geostrategic interests over supporting the Rohingya and that already cuts off a lifeline for the Rohingya as China, Japan, and India’s geoeconomics interests support indirectly provide financial backing to Myanmar to continue its various crimes. The only other actor left for a more impactful action against Myanmar is the United States of America. However, the Biden administration and the EU are both preoccupied with other geopolitical crises such as the war in Ukraine.

So far, it is clear that diplomatic instruments only fail in this situation. Further, the current government of Myanmar continues the tradition of blocking humanitarian aid to the Rohingya people. Given the lack of enforceable international instruments at hand, it is visible that the situation will continue to worsen. The current bureaucracy and liberal values of the international system thus raise questions about the necessity for a full scale change. The International Criminal Court cannot punish any entities, government or individuals in a scalable and actionable manner, and the UN resolutions and the judgments of the International Criminal Court have continuously failed throughout history, with geopolitical actors continuously leading driving change.

What can be done?

In theory, some components of the international system could provide real solutions to the problem. The only evident way to reverse ethnic cleansing so far has been the use of military force. NATO for example, has successfully reversed ethnic cleansing in 1999 when it launched a unilateral air campaign against Serbia in Kosovo. After three months, Serbia agreed to allow 1.5 million Albanians back to their homes. To this day, NATO troops are still in Kosovo, protecting residents and culture on each side of the dispute. This is something the multilateral instruments of the UN have thus far failed at in Rwanda, Cyprus and most recently the Rohingya. However, it is unrealistic for NATO to intervene in this situation given the lack of geopolitical connection to the area.


Insofar, it is important for the Rohingya and all other displaced persons in the world, that the international system begins to adapt to a more realistic mindset and finally acknowledges that the survival of the current international system depends on its adaptability to the growingly realistic culture we are currently faced with. If this cannot happen, then it is unfortunate but safe to assume that the Rohingya genocide and displacement may not be the first of its kind, but will not at all be the last.

This article was written for the MD x EuroMUN Printed Edition.


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