Canada, along with Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the U.K., has submitted a request to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to join the case accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority during the 2016-17 “clearance operations” in its western state of Rakhine.
The case was filed in 2019 by a team of Canadian, British, and American lawyers on behalf of the African nation of the Gambia. Although the Gambiadoes not have a direct connection to the alleged crimes, it is acting on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and pursuing the case as a state party to the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Seeking solutions to a tragedy
Canada’s commitment to the Rohingya issue first gained traction after Bob Rae, Ottawa’s then-Special Envoy to Myanmar, concluded a fact-finding mission to the region in 2017-18. Rae’s report formed the basis for Canada’s current Rohingya strategy, which focuses on questions of “accountability and impunity” and providing humanitarian support for Rohingya who remain in Myanmar and those who have sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
But the Rohingya are rapidly running out of time; conditions in the overcrowded and squalid refugee camps in Bangladesh continue to prompt groups of Rohingya to escape by boat — nearly 1,000 have arrived in Indonesia in the past week alone. Many of Myanmar’s southeast Asian neighbours have been criticized by members of the international community for turning these vessels away, leaving some of the passengers to perish at sea.
Repatriation not an option
While the legal process that Canada is supporting at the ICJ grinds along slowly, conditions on the ground in Myanmar are deteriorating at an alarming pace. In the last three weeks, violence has escalated between the military government, which overthrew the elected government in 2021, and a group of ethnic armed organizations increasingly working in close co-ordination to oppose the junta.
Despite the dismal security situation, the Bangladeshi and Myanmar governments have been piloting a project, brokered by China, to repatriate Rohingya to Rakhine State. Those plans now look especially misguided; on November 21, the UN reported that violence in Myanmar is “the largest in scale and most extensive geographically” since the 2021 coup. Rakhine State had been under a one-year ceasefire, but that was broken by one of the ethnic armed organizations, the Arakan Army, on November 13.