Make Myanmar stop genocide of its own people, Gambia urges ICJ

VIDEO: REUTERS

Gambia's justice minister yesterday urged the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to make Myanmar stop the "genocide of its own people", in the most high-profile legal challenge to Naypyitaw since a military crackdown expelled some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims from the country two years ago.

Listening impassively in the world court in The Hague was Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who confounded observers when she decided last month to personally lead the country's defence team against the Gambian challenge.

Gambia, a Muslim-majority African nation, had filed a lawsuit on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, alleging that Myanmar had breached its obligations under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, of which Myanmar is a state party.

It has also asked the court to approve provisional measures to compel Myanmar to do everything within its power to, among other things, prevent the extrajudicial killing and rape of, and the deprivation of food to, the Rohingya, as well as ensure that evidence related to the genocide case was not destroyed.

The Rohingya are often derided as illegal "Bengali" immigrants in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

More than 700,000 Rohingya refugees now face an uncertain future in neighbouring Bangladesh, after an insurgent attack in 2017 triggered a scorched-earth military response that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing.

Another 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar, with their rights and movements heavily restricted.

While Myanmar's military - protected by a Constitution drafted under its watch - acts with little civilian oversight, Ms Suu Kyi has drawn fire in recent years for shielding it from persecution, often by saying that the issue is highly complex.

Said Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou as he opened the argument for provisional measures: "Every genocide that has occurred in history has had its own causes unique to its historical and political context. But one thing is certain - genocide does not happen in a vacuum."

 
 
 

He added: "Another genocide is unfolding right before our eyes even as I make this statement to you today. Yet, we do nothing to stop it. This is a stain on our collective conscience."

Other members of his legal team recounted in great detail atrocities, such as mass rape, unearthed by the recent independent fact-finding mission commissioned by the UN Human Rights Council - which Myanmar has refused to cooperate with.

Ms Suu Kyi is expected to address the court today.

With the next Myanmar general election looming next year, some analysts have suggested that Ms Suu Kyi's move would help draw support domestically at a time when the National League for Democracy is drawing flak for a lacklustre first term in office.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 11, 2019, with the headline 'Make Myanmar stop genocide of its own people, Gambia urges ICJ'. Print Edition | Subscribe