Gambia filed a case on Monday at the United Nations’ highest court, accusing Myanmar of “genocide” in its campaign against its Rohingya Muslim minority.
Gambia, which filed the case on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to urgently order measures “to stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately.”
Gambia’s justice minister and attorney general Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, told The Associated Press (AP) he wanted to “send a clear message to Myanmar and to the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of terrible atrocities that are occurring around us.“
“It’s a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes,” AP quoted Tambadou as saying in a report from The Hague, Netherlands.
In its first Genocide Convention case, the ICJ imposed provisional measures against Serbia in 1993 and eventually found that Serbia had violated its duty to prevent and punish genocide in Bosnia-Herzegovina, according to Human Rights Watch (HRW).
Canada, Bangladesh, Nigeria, Turkey, and France have asserted that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya, it said.
The OIC has encouraged its 57 members to bring Myanmar before the court.
Malaysia’s prime minister has also alleged that Myanmar committed genocide against the Rohingya and called for efforts to bring Myanmar before the court.
Myanmar’s military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh to escape what has been called an “ethnic cleansing” campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes. Bangladesh is currently hosting over 1.1 million Rohingyas.
The head of a UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned last month that “there is a serious risk of genocide recurring.”
The mission also said in its final report in September that Myanmar should be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against the Rohingya.
The case filed with the ICJ, also known as the world court, alleges that Myanmar’s campaign against the Rohingya, which includes “killing, causing serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions that are calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcible transfers, are genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”
“Gambia is taking this action to seek justice and accountability for the genocide being committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya, and to uphold and strengthen the global norm against genocide that is binding upon all states,” Tambadou said in a statement.
The International Criminal Court’s prosecutor also asked judges at that court in July for permission to open a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she wants to investigate the crimes of deportation, inhumane acts and persecution allegedly committed as Rohingya were driven from Myanmar, which is not a member of the global court, into Bangladesh, which is.
The International Criminal Court holds individuals responsible for crimes while the International Court of Justice settles disputes between nations. Both courts are based in The Hague.
Myanmar’s UN ambassador, Hau Do Suan, last month called the UN fact-finding mission “one-sided” and based on “misleading information and secondary sources.”
He said Myanmar’s government takes accountability seriously and that the perpetrators of all human rights violations “causing the large outflow of displaced people to Bangladesh must be held accountable.”
The Gambia’s case against Myanmar at the ICJ for violating the Genocide Convention will bring the first judicial scrutiny of Myanmar’s campaign of murder, rape, arson, and other atrocities against Rohingya Muslims, 10 nongovernmental organisations said.
States that are party to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide agreed that genocide “whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish” and, by extension, have an obligation not to commit it, according to the HRW.
The convention permits member states to bring a dispute before the ICJ alleging another state’s breach of the convention, and states can seek provisional measures to stop continuing violations. Myanmar became a party to the Genocide Convention in 1956.
“The Gambia’s legal action triggers a judicial process before the world’s highest court that could determine that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya violate the Genocide Convention,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at the HRW.
“The court’s prompt adoption of provisional measures could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar.”
The nongovernmental organisations supporting the initiative are No Peace Without Justice, the Association pour la Lutte Contre l’Impunité et pour la Justice Transitionnelle, the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights, the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, the Global Justice Center, Human Rights Watch, the International Bar Association Human Rights Institute, Parliamentarians for Global Action, and the Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice.
“As a country recently emerging from decades of brutal dictatorship, The Gambia’s leadership on the Rohingya genocide is especially striking and welcome,” said Alison Smith, international justice director at No Peace Without Justice. “Other members of the Genocide Convention should follow The Gambia’s lead and lend their clear and unwavering support.”
The 10 organizations convened a meeting in The Hague with Abubacarr Tambadou, The Gambia’s attorney general and justice minister, and members of his legal team; several representatives of the Rohingya community; and others who have supported this initiative.
The meeting provided an update on the initiative, addressed the implications of state responsibility under the Genocide Convention for deterring further crimes and providing redress the victims, and discussed the role that civil society groups and other stakeholders could play in such an inter-state dispute, according to the HRW.