Lawyers from Gambia have urged the United Nations’ top court to reject Myanmar’s legal attempt to end a case of genocide by the Southeast Asian country against Rohingya Muslims, after the Buddhist nation tried to get the case dismissed.
Gambia brought the case before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in 2019, arguing that Myanmar’s junta violated the 1948 genocide convention during a 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya. Gambia argues the crackdown amounted to genocide and that the world court must hold Myanmar accountable.
The ICJ is currently holding hearings into the list of preliminary objections filed by Myanmar’s government just prior to last February’s coup d’état, which challenged the court’s jurisdiction to hear the case.
Gambian lawyers urged the court to reject Myanmar’s challenge to the case two days after Myanmar’s junta demanded that it drop the case. The junta argued the West African country was “no one’s proxy” and had no legal basis for challenging the case because it was really brought by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation and that the court can only hear cases between countries.
“We seek to protect not only the rights of the Rohingya, but our own rights as a state party to the genocide convention,” Gambia’s Attorney General and Justice Minister Dawda Jallow told the court on Wednesday.
“We make it our business when we, as civilized nations, committed ourselves to the pact under the 1948 Genocide Convention,” Jallow added.
“These violations of the genocide convention are a stain on our collective conscience and it would be irresponsible to pretend that it is not our business,” the Gambian lawyer told judges.
When the case opened in December 2019, Myanmar’s former leader Aung San Suu Kyi personally represented Myanmar at the ICJ, but she was deposed in the military coup last year.
The ICJ judges must now decide whether the court has the jurisdiction to hear the case. If so, the case could still take several years.
Approximately 850,000 Rohingya are packed into 34 camps across the neighboring Bangladesh while another 600,000 Rohingya remain in Myanmar’s southwestern Rakhine State.
Today, more Rohingya live outside Myanmar than in their own country. Those who remain are denied basic rights to healthcare, education, and freedom of movement, and are at risk of further acts of genocide by the military. Since the coup, the sense of fear and uncertainty has grown.
The refugees also also face a desperate situation, living in overcrowded conditions and lacking freedom of movement or access to formal education. Deadly fires are frequent at their squalid camps. Over the past two years, the Bangladeshi government has also relocated more than 20,000 Rohingya refugees to the flood-prone Bhasan Char Island, in many cases without gaining their informed consent.