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Gambia files Rohingya genocide case against Myanmar at World Court

  • Published at 04:56 pm November 11th, 2019
WEB_2017_burning house_Rohingya crisis_Maungdaw_Rakhine_Myanmar_AFP_04.03.2019.jpg
Unidentified men carry knives and slingshots as they walk past a burning house in Gawdu Tharya village near Maungdaw in Rakhine state, in northern Myanmar on September 7, 2017 AFP

UN investigators have said that the 2017 crackdown by Myanmar's military was executed with “genocidal intent”

Gambia has filed a case at the United Nations' top court accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority, Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said on Monday.

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 of genocide.

“We have just submitted our application to the ICJ under the Genocide Convention,” Tambadou told a news conference in The Hague, where the court is based, reports Reuters.

“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.

Tambadou’s tiny West African nation, which is predominantly Muslim, filed the case with the support of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).

More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar's military, which UN investigators have said was executed with “genocidal intent.”

Myanmar, which has a Buddhist majority, denies accusations of genocide and says its crackdown targeted militant separatists in Rakhine state.

Including the Rohingyas that arrived during the influx since August 2017, Bangladesh currently hosts more than 1.1 million refugees in around 30 camps in Teknaf and Ukhiya upazilas of Cox’s Bazar.

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.

Gambia's move was hailed by Human rights groups that have been pushing the international community to act in the Rohingya crisis.

Param-Preet Singh of Human Rights Watch told Reuters: “Gambia has found a way to turn the international community's handwringing over the Rohingya into action.”

While the ICJ has no means to enforce any of its rulings, going against the decisions of the court could further harm Myanmar's international reputation.

Myanmar has signed an agreement with Bangladesh over the proper repatriation of the Rohingyas, but they are yet to take any refugee back.

Rohingyas are also reluctant to return home until the Myanmar government ensures their citizenship and security from the persecutors.

Where ICC stands…

On September 6 last year, the International Criminal Court (ICC), in response to a request from its Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda, ruled that the court had jurisdiction over alleged deportations of Rohingyas from Rakhine to Bangladesh as a possible crime against humanity.

On September 18, 2018, Bensouda, who is also from Gambia, had issued a statement stating that a preliminary examination into the allegations of crimes committed by Myanmar in forcing deportation of Rohingyas from Rakhine to Cox’s Bazar had begun.

Although Myanmar is not a member of court, Bangladesh is, and the cross-border nature of deportation was sufficient for jurisdiction, it said in its ruling.

On July 4 this year, Bensouda had made a plea to begin an investigation into the alleged crimes against humanity committed against the civilian Rohingya population since at least October 9, 2016.

A three-member pre-trial court is now examining the merit of her application before authorizing the investigation.

In March and July, two ICC delegations had visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh to see the situation on the ground.

The second team, led by ICC Deputy Prosecutor James Kirkpatrick Stewart, had also met with senior government officials, officials of the law and home ministries, and representatives of international organizations over the Rohingya issue.