The Gambia has filed a case at the United Nations’ top court, accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority, more than two years after some 750,000 Rohingyas fled a military crackdown in the Rakhine State.
“We have just submitted our application to the ICJ under the Genocide Convention,” Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said at a news conference yesterday in The Hague, where the court is based.
“The aim is to get Myanmar to account for its action against its own people: the Rohingya. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right under our own eyes,” he said.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, is the United Nations’ top legal institution that rules on disputes between states.
Both Gambia and Myanmar are signatories to the 1948 Genocide Convention, which not only prohibits states from committing genocide but also compels all signatory states to prevent and punish the crime.
The West African nation, which is predominantly Muslim, has filed its case on behalf of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) that has held a series of meetings to encourage its 57 members to support the case.
Abubacarr M Tambadou, who worked for more than a decade as a lawyer at the United Nations tribunal dealing with the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, assumed a position of leadership in the lawsuit because of his special expertise.
In a telephone interview, Tambadou told the New York times that he had been moved by his visit to the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“The world failed Rwanda when the international community did not prevent the genocide while it was unfolding,’’ he said.
“The treatment of the Rohingya is illustrative of the international community’s failure to prevent genocide in Myanmar. I thought this was not right. The world cannot stand by and do nothing.’’
Regional rights body Fortify Rights said in October 2016 and August and September 2017 that the Myanmar military deployed more than 11,000 soldiers who, along with police and civilian perpetrators, systematically massacred and raped Rohingya men, women, and children and razed several hundred villages in all three townships of northern Rakhine.
UN investigators have said the crackdown against the Rohingyas was executed with “genocidal intent”.
The UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission reported in September this year it has a confidential list of more than 100 names, including Myanmar officials, suspected of being involved in genocide, crimes against humanity, and war crimes, in addition to six generals it named publicly a year ago.
The civilian and military government routinely deny any wrongdoings by state security forces in the Rakhine State and reject and deny evidence of mass atrocities against Rohingyas. It says the crackdown targeted militant separatists in Rakhine.
Over the last two years, UN Security Council failed to take any concrete actions against Myanmar due to opposition from veto powers — China and Russia.
In its filing, Gambia asked the court to grant so-called provisional measures to make sure Myanmar immediately “stops atrocities and genocide against its own Rohingya people”.
The law firm helping Gambia, Foley Hoag, said it expected the first hearings on the provisional measures to take place next month.