The Gambia case has apparently put Myanmar under real pressure for a change
The atrocities against the Rohingyas — often described as one of the world’s worst persecuted communities — by Myanmar military, local Buddhists and different ethnic groups in Rakhine state is nothing new. Myanmar authorities and their local allies have been doing this for decades with full impunity.
The Rohingyas first fled to Bangladesh in large scale in the 1970s when the atrocities became unbearable. But, they returned under the arrangements of governments of both countries.
But in the early 1990s, hundreds of thousands of persecuted Rohingyas again had to flee their homes. Between then and October 2016, at least 250,000-350,000 Rohingyas lived in Bangladesh illegally. About 70,000 new Rohingyas joined them after another military crackdown in October and November in 2016.
After that, the latest exodus of Rohingyas since August 25, 2017 had seen the arrival of about 740,000 Rohingyas to Bangladesh due to unprecedented atrocities orchestrated by the Myanmar security forces and their allies.
Even after facing denouncement from other countries and compelling findings of an independent UN fact-finding mission and others, Myanmar government did not bring the perpetrators of the genocide, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing to justice — as it enjoys unwavering support of its staunchest ally China, a veto yielding member the United Nations Security Council.
Naypyidaw also enjoys the support of powers like Russia and India to some significant extent.
However, things appeared to have moved in favour of the Rohingya refugees who cited accountability and justice as part of their prerequisite for repatriation to Rakhine, after Gambia, a small West African country, filed a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on November 11 against Myanmar.
Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, the attorney general and justice minister of Gambia, had filed the case with the ICJ, The Hague-based principal judicial organ of the UN, alleging violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide by the Myanmar government.
Filing the case on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Gambia also asked the ICJ to impose provisional measures, as a matter of extreme urgency, to protect the Rohingyas from further harm by ordering Myanmar to immediately stop all genocidal conducts.
Gambia is the chair of the OIC ad-hoc ministerial committee on accountability for human rights violations against the Rohingyas, which was established at the 45th OIC council of foreign ministers meeting in Dhaka in May 2018.
The ICJ on November 18 had decided to hold three days of hearings from December 10 to 12.
According to schedule posted on the ICJ website, first round of oral observations will be delivered by Gambia from 10am to 1pm local time on Tuesday, while Myanmar will submit its oral arguments at the same time on Wednesday.
In the second round of oral observations, on Thursday, Gambia will place arguments from 10am to 11:30am and Myanmar from 4:30pm to 6pm.
The filing of this case, which provided a ray of hope among the Rohingyas, has been possible as both Gambia and Myanmar are signatories of the Genocide Convention.
This case has apparently put Myanmar under real pressure, mainly because any decisions by the ICJ are binding on member states.
Suu Kyi leading Myanmar lawyers
The decision of Myanmar State Counsellor — and the de facto president — Aung San Suu Kyi to lead the lawyers on behalf of her country and reactions among people reflects a certain degree of fear on the part of Naypyidaw.
Gambia’s justice minister Tambadou will lead his country during the hearings.
Bangladesh will have no role to play during the hearings, but a delegation headed by Foreign Secretary Shahidul Haque will be present in the courtroom to observe the proceedings.
“Yes, I will leave Monday morning for The Hague. We will watch the proceedings. This time around we have nothing to do in regard to the case. In the future, we may have,” Haque told Dhaka Tribune yesterday.
To a question, he said that Bangladesh will extend its all out cooperation if the court asks.
Apart from witnessing the proceedings, the Bangladesh delegation will network with other equal-minded stakeholders to make the case stronger and keep the people across the world aware of it, said a senior official, adding that many other countries were also supporting the case against Myanmar.
It has also been learnt that a Rohingya delegation will also travel to The Hague to witness the proceedings.
The Chinese issue
Meanwhile, the Chinese foreign minister and state counsellor are now in Myanmar on a visit, which is seen by many as yet another example of Beijing’s unwavering support for Naypyidaw.
China, who is involved with Bangladesh and Myanmar in a trilateral mechanism to repatriate the Rohingyas, has always been in favour of avoiding multilateral engagements to resolve the protracted crisis.
It remains to be seen how Beijing takes the proceedings at the ICJ and another parallel process involving the International Criminal Court, which has already allowed its prosecutor to conduct a full-fledged investigation into the mass deportation of and the atrocities against the Rohingyas.
Senior officials Bangladesh’s Foreign Ministry told Dhaka Tribune that justice and accountability are very important for the Rohingyas as well as others, but it will take years to come to any conclusions.
So, Dhaka wants the repatriation of the Rohingyas to happen as soon as possible, they said.
The officials expressed only optimism when asked if China will help Bangladesh as promised regarding the Rohingya repatriation, given the fact that two international legal processes are ongoing against Myanmar, one of its most loyal allies.
“Look, China is also our friend and we have significant political and economic engagements with them. We do hope Beijing will live up to its pledges to help repatriate the Rohingyas,” said an official.