Rohingya refugees from Myanmar walk into Palongkhali in Bangladesh's Ukhia district on Nov. 2, 2017. They gave accounts of murder, rape and arson at the hands of Myanmar's army after militant raids sparked a military crackdown. (AFP photo)
The Gambia has filed a lawsuit accusing Myanmar of genocide for the brutal 2017 crackdown against Rohingya Muslims that forced thousands to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
In the lawsuit filed at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Hague on Nov. 11, the West African country requested that the court condemn Myanmar for violating the Genocide Convention with its campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The Gambia was chosen to file the suit at the United Nations' highest court on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The lawsuit alleges that Myanmar breached the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide adopted by the UN in 1948.
It also asks the ICJ to order Myanmar to cease and desist from all acts of genocide, to punish those responsible including senior government officials and military leaders, and to issue reparations to victims, according to a statement by Foley Hoag LLC, the international law firm assisting the Gambia with the case.
The Gambia called for urgent provisional measures to stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately to prevent further harm to the Rohingya while the case is pending.
A UN fact-finding mission has reported that “genocidal acts” carried out in Rakhine state by Myanmar’s military resulted in more than 740,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
The mission also said in its final report in September that Myanmar leaders should be tried at the International Criminal Court (ICC) for genocide against Rohingya and other ethnic minority groups.
The ICC’s prosecutor also asked judges at that court in July for permission to open a formal investigation into crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.
Holy Cross Father Liton Hubert Gomes, secretary of the Catholic bishops’ Justice and Peace Commission in Bangladesh, said the lawsuit is a significant move that would put more international pressure on Myanmar to prosecute those responsible for atrocities against Rohingya.
Whether the ICJ accepts the charge or not, this symbolic move is welcome on grounds that it is intended to ensure justice and human dignity for the Rohingya community, he said.
The priest said Bangladesh has been on the receiving end of the Rohingya crisis but it has failed to do enough to ensure an acceptable solution to the problem amid a lack of cooperation from other countries including India, China and Japan.
“Bangladesh should cooperate with the ICJ and the OIC if the charge is accepted, and this would be a strong way to press Myanmar to act responsibly for a sustainable solution to the Rohingya crisis,” Father Gomes told ucanews.
Muhammad Rezwan, 26, a Rohingya refugee at the Kutupalong camp in Cox’s Bazar district of southeast Bangladesh, said Myanmar authorities, especially the military, had carried out violence against minority groups including Rohingya with impunity for too long.
“The genocide charge sends a strong signal that nobody can get away with horrific crimes against vulnerable communities,” he said.
“I was one of the witnesses who spoke to investigators from the International Criminal Court when they visited Rohingya camps about two months ago. All I can say is that there is more than enough evidence to prosecute Myanmar for its genocidal crackdown on the Rohingya community, and we hope it will pave the way to end the persecution of Rohingya.”
Imtiaz Ahmed, a professor of international relations and director of the Center for Genocide Studies at Dhaka University, said the lawsuit is a remarkable move to bring justice for atrocities against Rohingya in Myanmar.
“It will surely face more international pressure. No matter what, Myanmar cannot avoid the issue if the charge is accepted as the country is a signatory to the 1948 Genocide Convention,” he told ucanews.
“It remains to be seen whether Myanmar acts responsibly for a durable solution to the Rohingya crisis and how its allies address the renewed pressure.”
Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, said: “The Gambia’s legal action triggers a judicial process before the world’s highest court that could determine that Myanmar’s atrocities against the Rohingya violate the Genocide Convention.”
“The court’s prompt adoption of provisional measures could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar.”
Khin Zaw Win, director of Yangon-based think-tank Tampadipa Institute, said Myanmar’s leaders should not underestimate the move by the international community.
“The government’s denial of rights abuses might not work out as legal proceedings at the ICJ and ICC are moving forward,” Khin Zaw Win told ucanews.
Myanmar’s government and military have yet to respond to the lawsuit.