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Dhaka Tribune

Commonwealth looks for lawyers’ pool for Rohingya genocide case

Gambia brought the case against Myanmar to the International Court of Justice with the backing of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Canada and the Netherlands

Update : 04 Dec 2020, 05:14 PM

Commonwealth Secretary General Patricia Scotland has said her office looks for ways to support Gambia in its legal battle over the Rohingya genocide case and continue to stand by Bangladesh as it hosts world’s largest group of forcibly displaced people.

In an exclusive virtual interview with BSS from her office in London she said Commonwealth Secretariat was reviewing possibilities of forming a “large pool of lawyers” drawn from the grouping’s member states to support Gambia in fighting the case in International Court of Justice (ICJ).

Scotland said being a Commonwealth member Canada joined hands with Gambia in its legal battle in the ICJ while her office planned to support the move extending possible legal expertise available in the Commonwealth.

“(Simultaneously) Commonwealth family stands in ‘full solidarity’ with Bangladesh on this issue and will continue to support Bangladesh, in keeping with the decision by Commonwealth Heads of Government at their meeting in 2018,” she said.

The top Commonwealth executive highly praised Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her example setting humanitarian gesture by offering refuge to the Rohingyas.

Scotland’s comments came following a high-level dialogue jointly organized by Bangladesh High Commission in the UK and Commonwealth Secretariat in London last week.

Also read: UN: Rohingya must have choice on going to Bhashan Char

Bangladesh currently hosts over 1.1 million forcibly displaced Rohingyas in Cox’s Bazar district and most of them arrived there since August 25, 2017 amid a ruthless military crackdown at their homeland in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

In November last year, Gambia brought the case against Myanmar to the ICJ with the backing of Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), Canada and the Netherlands, while ICJ held its first hearing on December 10-12.

On January 23 last, the ICJ made the historic unanimous decision and ruled that there was sufficient cause for a case and that Myanmar should take all steps to remedy the status quo regarding alleged human rights violations against the Rohingya.

Apart from unveiling the Commonwealth’s plans over the Rohingya crisis, Scotland appreciated Sheikh Hasina’s leadership for success in maintaining Bangladesh’s positive economic growth rate amid the Covid-19 pandemic that upset growth rate in many developing economies.

Scotland, who now serves as the Commonwealth’s sixth secretary-general, said her office was campaigning for equal access to potential Covid-19 vaccines and reviewing a recovery plan in economic front against the backdrop of the pandemic.

Covid-19 vaccine

Scotland said the Commonwealth absolutely supports equitable access to vaccines when they become available, and “we will be strongly advocating or our member states to have access to these invaluable vaccines when they become available”.

She said the Commonwealth was also setting up a “price sharing database” to support the equitable sharing or distribution of excess supplies of essential supplies such as test kits, ventilators, personal protective equipment, medical technology and products.

“This is to ensure the poorest nations that need these most, have access to these supplies, while contributing to the supply chain management during the global emergency,” the Commonwealth secretary general said.

Scotland pointed out that her office would work with the "Access to Covid-19 Tools (ACT) Accelerator" – a G20 initiative – to fast-track research, innovation and knowledge sharing towards supporting and developing diagnostics, vaccine, and therapeutics for Covid-19.

Economic recovery from Covid-19

She said the recent high-level dialogue was valuable opportunity for trade ministers and business leaders from across the Commonwealth to look at how they could work together to spur a digitally-inclusive and green recovery as trade is fundamental for any post-Covid recovery.

“Though the impact of Covid-19 has been devastating, recent history has demonstrated that the Commonwealth supported by ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ has the potential to rebound strongly from the pandemic,” she said.

The ‘Commonwealth Advantage’ is based on the fact that member countries all speak the same language, have similar laws and regulatory systems, customs and shared values, helps to facilitate trade processes.

“We are focusing on building and strengthening connectivity between countries in five key areas: digital, physical (infrastructure), regulatory, supply-side and business-to-business connectivity,” Scotland said.

Bangladesh, she said, as the lead on Business-to-Business Connectivity for the Commonwealth, plays a very important role by working hand in hand with the private sector to ensure that the Commonwealth initiatives respond to the needs.

“That way, they (private sector) can create the jobs and drive the growth that will be needed for Covid-19 recovery,” said the secretary general.

The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 54 independent and equal countries, nearly all former territories of the British Empire. It is home to 2.4 billion people, and includes both advanced economies and developing countries.

The members of the association work together to promote prosperity, democracy and peace, amplify the voice of small states, and protect the environment.

The Commonwealth secretary-general is the head of the Commonwealth Secretariat, the central body which has served the Commonwealth of Nations since its establishment in 1965.

He or she is responsible for promoting and protecting the Commonwealth’s values, representing the Commonwealth publicly and the management of the Commonwealth Secretariat.

A Dominican by nationality, Scotland is the 2nd secretary-general from the Caribbean islands and the 1st woman to hold the position.

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