International Court of Justice orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya | National Union of Public and General Employees

International Court of Justice orders Myanmar to protect Rohingya

The ruling signals an important step forward in ending the genocide against the Rohingya people.

The Hague (28 Jan. 2020) ― Last week, the International Court of Justice (ICJ) made an initial ruling in The Gambia's case against Myanmar. The United Nations court ordered Myanmar to take urgent measures to protect its Rohingya population from the horrific atrocities committed by the Myanmar military.   

Trigger warning: please note that this story contains discussion of sexual violence, torture, and murder.


The Rohingya are one of many ethnic minorities in Myanmar. The Rohingya Muslims represent the largest number of Muslims in Myanmar. Despite living in the region for generations, the government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, has denied the Rohingya citizenship and viewed them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

In 2017, attacks by the Myanmar military reached a peak. The Myanmar military has committed mass rape, torture, and murder of the Rohingya, systematically targeting women and girls, in what has become widely recognized as ethnic cleaning. It has driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh where they are living in refugee camps.

Ruling confirms risk of genocide

In November 2019, The Gambia filed a case against Myanmar at the ICJ. Backed by the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, The Gambia alleges that the atrocities committed against the Rohingya constitute genocide and, as a result, Myanmar is in violation of the 1948 Genocide Convention.  

In a rare unanimous decision, the judges ruled that Myanmar should “take all measures within its power” to prevent acts prohibited under the Genocide Convention.  

Echoing the concerns raised by human rights advocates, and the Rohingya themselves, the court confirmed that the Rohingya are “at serious risk of genocide.”

An important statement

The ruling signals an important step forward in ending the genocide against the Rohingya people.

On the day of the ruling, Payam Akhavan, a McGill University professor and a lawyer with the team representing The Gambia, called it “a historic day for international justice.”

But the fight continues

Notably, this week’s ruling addressed only preliminary measures, while the ICJ’s final decision may take years.

Following the ICJ ruling, Myanmar’s government continued to downplay the situation and has rejected the ruling outright. The ICJ’s measures are legally binding, though the ICJ has no way of enforcing them. That said, other UN bodies or governments could take steps to reinforce the ruling to put greater pressure on Myanmar. 

NUPGE in solidarity with Rohingya women

NUPGE's Advisory Committee on Women's Issues (ACWI) has been working to raise awareness about the atrocities committed against the Rohingya women. The ACWI met last week in Ottawa to discuss, among other issues, the ongoing crisis facing the Rohingya and ways to support those in refugee camps.

NUPGE has also called on the Canadian government to take further action on this crisis. NUPGE urges all members to read President Brown’s letter to the Prime Minister, and to contact their local MP and voice their support for the federal government to take stronger measures to protect the Rohingya from further persecution and violence.


The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) is one of Canada's largest labour organizations with over 390,000 members. Our mission is to improve the lives of working families and to build a stronger Canada by ensuring our common wealth is used for the common good. — NUPGE