the government of The Gambia gave the 740,000 Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh a
hint of something unfamiliar to them: hope. The West African country
accomplished that by filing an official complaint against Myanmar with the
International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague for violations of the United
Nations’ 1948 Genocide Convention linked to abuses against its Muslim Rohingya
minority. The complaint consists of a 46-page document alleging crimes by
Myanmar security forces against the Rohingya, including destruction of
communities, rape, and murder
complaint followed Gambian Attorney General and Justice Minister Abubacarr
Marie Tambadou’s October 4 announcement that doing so was an official priority.
The Gambia’s move is in line with its role as the head of the Organization of
Islamic Conference’ ad hoc ministerial committee, which the OIC tasked in June
with filing an ICJ complaint against Myanmar.
Gambia’s ICJ complaint against Myanmar signifies an important first step in an
international challenge to Myanmar for the crimes that its security forces
committed against the Rohingya in late 2017 in northern Rakhine state. It
should also be the catalyst for a much wider international impetus toward
accountability for those crimes. What’s specifically required, and soon, is
other UN member states joining The Gambia in filing similar complaints with the
ICJ to create a critical mass of international opprobrium unequivocally
targeting the Myanmar government for the impunity it has granted military
perpetrators of widespread and systematic abuses against the Rohingya.
and barbarity of those abuses are unquestionable. In September 2018, the United
Nations Fact-Finding Mission (FFM) published a 444-page report about
human-rights abuses against the Rohingya. The mission’s report concluded that
there was evidence of atrocities – including mass killings, gang rapes, and
mutilations – warranting criminal prosecution for crimes against humanity, war
crimes, and genocide. The report names top military officials as targets for
investigation and prosecution and blames civilian authorities for “spreading
false narratives, denying the wrongdoing of the (security forces), blocking
independent investigations … and overseeing the destruction of evidence.”
Washington-based Public International Law and Policy Group likewise released a
comprehensive report in September 2018 on the atrocities perpetrated against
the Rohingya and concluded that Myanmar security forces were implicated in
“crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes.”
by Physicians for Human Rights over the past two years have put a tragic human
face to the UN assessment, and provided scientific objectivity in refuting the
government’s repeated denials. In 2018, PHR surveyed 604 leaders from Rohingya
hamlets in Rakhine state encompassing more than 916,000 people. The findings,
coupled with in-depth interviews and forensic medical examinations of Rohingya
survivors, point to a widespread and systematic pattern of targeted violence –
including rapes and killings of women, men, and children.
that evidence, the Myanmar government has consistently stonewalled
international efforts at accountability for those atrocities. The government
rejected the UN FFM report’s findings as “false allegations.” The government
has also blocked UN special rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee, who is tasked
with assessing the human-rights situation in that country.
initiate an International Criminal Court investigation of the bloodshed have
been complicated by the fact that Myanmar is not a signatory to the Rome
Statute that established the court. International efforts to trigger an ICC
probe via a resolution of the UN Security Council have been stymied by the
opposition of Russia and China. Although the UN has responded to that obstruction
by creating an independent investigative mechanism to probe whether Myanmar has
committed crimes against humanity against its ethnic minorities over the past
eight years, its necessarily slow and opaque operations have helped bolster the
Myanmar government’s denial narrative.
the ICC announced that it would open a preliminary examination of alleged
crimes related to forced deportation of Rohingya by Myanmar security forces to
Bangladesh, an ICC member state. However, it’s not known if or when the ICC
might approve a formal investigation of those alleged crimes.
Gambia’s move to take Myanmar to the ICJ for state-backed slaughter of the
Rohingya should be an inspiration for other African states to do likewise. By
doing so, they can express solidarity for besieged minorities everywhere and
provide a needed symbol of support for international justice mechanisms that
are under attack in other parts of the continent.
states and Western countries also have an important role to play in taking
concrete steps toward accountability for the perpetrators of crimes against the
Rohingya. In Asia, Malaysia is uniquely qualified to take this initiative.
That’s because senior Malaysian government officials have already publicly
declared that the Myanmar government is perpetrating genocide against the
should also follow through on its rhetorical support for justice for the
Rohingya. In October 2017, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appointed a special
envoy to Myanmar. After the September 2018 release of a damning UN report that
implicated the Myanmar military in crimes against humanity and acts of
“genocidal intent,” Canada’s Parliament became the world’s first to vote
unanimously that the Rohingya were the victims of a genocide. Canada’s Senate
promptly did likewise.
complaints are no panacea: ICJ judgments don’t name names of individual
perpetrators and proceedings can take years. But they can add to the
international pressure on Myanmar to end its policy of gross impunity and push
it to take concrete action toward accountability and to creating conditions for
the eventual safe, voluntary, and dignified return of the Rohingya.
bolster their ICJ complains by imposing or tightening financial sanctions on
Myanmar and on military and government officials implicated in the bloodshed.
Governments can and should encourage foreign investors to refuse to do business
with Myanmar entities that have ties to government and military elements
culpable in the violence of 2017.
has taken the lead on the long-overdue process of accountability for the
extreme violence perpetrated against the Rohingya. It’s time for other states
to recognize that achievement and do likewise to ensure that the Rohingya’s
fragile hopes for justice aren’t betrayed.
Headline: Gambia takes global lead in justice for Rohingya
Source: The Asia Times