Surprising champion has important supporters . . .
Gambia, a small country in West Africa, has filed a case against Myanmar with the UN’s highest court, the International Court of Justice (ICJ), alleging acts of genocide against Rohingya Muslims. Although the step is unusual – the court normally deals with disputes between neighbouring countries – it is permissible under ICJ rules. Moreover, Gambia is well positioned to take the lead: it has the backing of the 57-member Organisation of Islamic Cooperation and several international NGOs, and its Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubacarr Tambadou, worked with the International Criminal Tribunal on the 1994 Rwanda genocide.
Running out of options . . .
The New York Times described the court filing as a “last-ditch effort” after previous UN efforts were hamstrung by flat denials by the Myanmar government and jurisdictional limitations. Gambia’s argument details evidence of “clearance operations” using “mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of [Rohingya] villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses.” Normally, the International Criminal Court (ICC), an intergovernmental organization set up for the purpose of dealing with such crimes, would take up the case. But its jurisdiction is limited to countries that have ratified it, and Myanmar has not. However, more than 700,000 survivors have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh, which is an ICC signatory, thus opening the way for that court to also prosecute crimes related to the Rohingyas’ deportation.
Canada throwing its weight behind lawsuit . . .
Canada has long been a champion of international efforts to prevent and protect against genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing, and crimes against humanity. It is currently committed to building international support for the lawsuit against Myanmar. In 2018, Parliament voted unanimously to call treatment of the Rohingya a genocide, and The Hon. Bob Rae, former interim leader of the federal Liberal Party, will soon resume his role as Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s special envoy to Myanmar. The ICJ is expected to take up the case in December.
- CBC: Myanmar formally accused of genocide in court case filed at The Hague
- Human Rights Watch: Gambia brings genocide case against Myanmar
- New York Times: Myanmar genocide lawsuit is filed at United Nations court