The International Court of Justice (ICJ) has ordered measures to prevent the genocide of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar (formerly Burma).
The decision comes despite de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi defending her country against the accusations in person last month.
Thousands of Rohingya died and more than 700,000 fled to Bangladesh during an army crackdown in 2017. UN investigators have warned that genocidal actions could recur.
The ICJ case, lodged by the African Muslim-majority nation of The Gambia, called for emergency measures to be taken against the Myanmar military until a fuller investigation could be launched.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist state, has always insisted that its military campaign was waged to tackle an extremist threat in Rakhine state.
In her defence statement at the court in The Hague, Ms Suu Kyi described the violence as an “internal armed conflict” triggered by Rohingya militant attacks on government security posts.
The panel of 17 judges at the ICJ on Thursday voted unanimously to order Myanmar to take “all measures within its power” to prevent genocide, which they said the Rohingya remained at serious risk of.
These include the prevention of killing, and “causing serious bodily or mental harm” to members of the group, as well as preserving evidence of possible genocide that has already occurred.
Presiding judge Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf said Myanmar should report back within four months on how it was implementing the ruling.
The measures are binding and not subject to appeal, but the court has no means of enforcing them.
This judgment has surely obliterated any remnants of Aung San Suu Kyi’s international reputation.
Remember, she didn’t have to go to The Hague and become the embodiment of Myanmar’s defence. She chose to argue, in person, there was no mass murder, rape or arson.
Even her biggest critics used to acknowledge she doesn’t control the still powerful Burmese army, but now she has destroyed the firewall between her and the generals by trying – and failing – to justify their actions.
So far, Myanmar has played by the rules of the International Court of Justice. But will it abide by these emergency measures?
Writing today in a British newspaper, Aung San Suu Kyi questioned whether the international justice system was capable of ignoring “unsubstantiated narratives” told by human rights groups and UN investigators against her country.
So, after initially engaging with the UN’s top court, will a defeated Aung San Suu Kyi retreat now into isolation?
During hearings at the court in December, Ms Suu Kyi asked the ICJ to drop the case, describing it as “incomplete and incorrect”.
And in an article for the Financial Times published shortly before the court’s judgement she said human rights groups had condemned Myanmar based on “unproven statements without the due process of criminal investigation”.
“The international condemnation has had a negative effect on Myanmar’s endeavours to bring stability and progress to Rakhine,” she said.
“It has undermined painstaking domestic efforts to establish co-operation between the military and the civilian government.”
Her remarks also appeared to echo a statement by a government-appointed panel earlier this week which accepted that war crimes may have been committed by individuals but said there was no indication of an intent to commit genocide.
However, the BBC’s Anna Holligan, who is in The Hague, says that by coming to the court in December, Ms Suu Kyi had in effect recognised its legitimacy and it will now be difficult for Myanmar to ignore its judgement.