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Rohingya genocide case against Myanmar: West's failure to support the Gambia surprising, if not shocking

  • Published at 12:43 am December 29th, 2019
Rohingya village_Reuters
File photo: A house is seen on fire in Gawduthar village, Maungdaw township, in the north of Rakhine state, Myanmar September 7, 2017Reuters

So far, only Canada and the Netherlands have openly supported the African Nation

On November 11, the Gambia, the tiniest nation in Africa with a Muslim majority, filed a case with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Myanmar, alleging violations of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide in connection with the Rohingyas.

The attorney general and justice minister of the Gambia, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, also asked the ICJ, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, to impose provisional measures – as a matter of extreme urgency – to protect the Rohingyas against further harm by ordering Myanmar to stop all of its genocidal conducts immediately. 

The hearings on the provisional measures took place on December 10-12 at the ICJ based in The Hague, a city inthe Netherlands.

Both the Gambia and Myanmar placed their arguments before the ICJ, and now the judges are considering the deliberations placed before them by both parties. 

According to multiple sources, including few who attended the hearings, the court is expected to make its decision known on provisional measures within three months from December 12.

The Gambia filed the case as the chair of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation’s (OIC) ad hoc ministerial committee on accountability, for human rights violations against the Rohingyas that was established at the 45th OIC Council of Foreign Ministers in Dhaka in 2018.

Apart from the OIC, the Gambia received open support from only two western countries: Canada and the Netherlands. 

On December 9, the day before the hearings began, Ottawa and the Hague issued a joint statement, welcoming the Gambian application before the ICJ. 

"In order to uphold international accountability and prevent impunity, Canada and the Netherlands hereby express their intention to jointly explore all options to support and assist the Gambia in these efforts,"the statement said. "Canada and the Netherlands consider it their obligation to support the Gambia before the ICJ, as it should concern all of humanity."

Canada and the Netherlands also urged all state parties to the Genocide Convention to support the African nation.

That did not happen, however; no other countries, including the West, voiced their support in favour of the Gambian endeavour to seek justice for the Rohingyas, which has surprised, if not shocked, many including officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, former diplomats and international relations experts in Bangladesh.

The failure of the European Union, the US and Australia in particular to openly support the Gambia is surprising, because they always talk about accountability for the crimes committed against the Rohingyas.

They also imposed sanctions on some of the Myanmar generals. In addition, the US Department of State has a finding of its own which is in line with the UN independent fact-finding mission.

Against such a scenario, it is worth pondering as to why the West is not voicing its support for an initiative that has, for the first time, provided the long-persecuted Rohingyas a ray of hope for justice they are seeking. Their support could also have made the case stronger.

The reasons for the West's silence are also not clear.

Having spoken to a number of western diplomats since December 12, this correspondent did not get any clear answer.

Some said they were working on their own way, although their moral support was with the Gambian initiative. Some said the just-concluded hearings were on provisional measures only and that they might help as the case progressed.

The above-mentioned versions, however, could not satisfy the Foreign Ministry, former diplomats and experts.

"They [the West] always talk about accountability. What happened to them now? If they had done what Canada and the Netherlands did, things would have been much better," a senior Foreign Ministry official said.

"Although it is a legal affair, I would have been much happier if the western countries had come forward with their expertise. Let's see what happens next," former foreign secretary Touhid Hossain said.

"I do not know clearly why the West is not openly supporting the case. I think they should, mainly because they also demand accountability; if they collectively stand behind the Gambia, the case will be much stronger,” said Dr Imtiaz Ahmed, an international relations professor at Dhaka University.

However, Humayun Kabir, former secretary at the Foreign Ministry and former Bangladesh ambassador to the US, observed: “Since it is a legal matter, the support of the West does not matter.”

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