Genocide case against Myanmar to be heard at highest U.N. Court

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi will head a team of lawyers to hearings at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague next week to defend the country against accusations of genocide against the Rohingya Muslims.

The ICJ, also called the World Court, is the highest United Nations legal body, established in 1945 to deal with disputes between states. 

The ICJ's 15-judge panel has historically dealt with border disputes. Increasingly it also hears cases brought by states accusing others of breaking obligations under U.N. treaties.

This case was brought against Myanmar by the tiny West African nation of Gambia, acting with the support of the 57-member Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), under the 1948 Genocide Convention. Both countries are signatories.

The convention obliges the 150 signatory countries not to commit genocide, but also to prevent and punish genocide. It defines genocide as "acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group".

The hearings at the ICJ from Dec.10-12 will not, at this stage, consider whether Myanmar is guilty of genocide. They will focus on a request for so-called provisional measures against Myanmar, a sort of preliminary injunction seeking to halt any ongoing abuse or violations. The measure is similar to a restraining order, but against a state rather than a person.

ICJ cases typically take years to come to a conclusion, but a decision on provisional measures could be made within weeks. Its rulings are final and without appeal, but the court has no way of enforcing them. Still a ruling against Myanmar could hurt its international reputation and set legal precedent.

Myanmar faces a series of legal contests globally accusing it of alleged atrocities against Rohingya Muslims during a military-led crackdown two years ago, but there are no legal precedents.

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