A prominent human rights lawyer Amal Clooney will represent the Gambia and Maldives in the case against Myanmar before the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, suspected of committing genocide against Rohingya Muslims in 2017.
The Gambia, which is a predominantly Muslim state, applied to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague in 2019 calling for Myanmar’s responsibility on breaching the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the UN in 1948 after the Holocaust.
According to the Amnesty International, around 800.000 Rohingya refugees, majority of whom women and children, escaped to Bangladesh after Myanmar’s army launched an attack in August 2017. Since then, around 24.000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s security forces. Around 34.000 Rohingya were thrown into the fires, while around 114.000 were beaten. Myanmar’s army and police members raped around 18.000 Rohingya women and girls.
In March 2017, the UN Human Rights Council established an independent international fact-finding mission with a task to determine circumstances and facts on the human rights violations committed against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar. The mission was tasked to particularly investigate human rights violations committed in the Rakhine State, regarding inhumane treatment, rape and other forms of sexual violence, arbitrary detention, torture, arbitrary killings, enforced disappearances, forced displacement and unlawful destruction of property, with a goal to ensure full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims.
In its report, the UN fact-finding mission stated that the violence committed against the Rohingya Muslims had genocidal intent. The UN investigators were not allowed by the Myanmar’s government to enter the country after the outbreaks; nevertheless, they interviewed 875 Rohingyas who managed to flee the country. The mission found that the “the military were killing indiscriminately, gang-raping women, assaulting children and burning entire villages” in the areas of Shan, Kachin and Rakhine. The military was also found responsible for enforced disappearances, torture, rapes, enslavement, persecution, murders, imprisonment, and other forms of sexual violence.
The Gambian government was joined by the Maldives and together they are about to challenge Myanmar’s treatment of Rohingya minority during army attacks on the Rakhine state in 2017, when more than 700.000 people were forced to escape to Bangladesh.
In January 2020, the ICJ brought an anonymous decision to impose “provisional measures” on Myanmar, saying that the country should refrain from committing genocidal violence against Rohingya people and preserve any evidence of past crimes. The ICJ declared that there were prima facie evidence of serious breaches of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide and warned that around 600.000 Rohingya people wo remained in Myanmar are extremely vulnerable to attacks by the military. The decision was made after rejection of defending arguments provided by Aung San Suu Kyi, de facto head of Myanmar government, who defended actions of the military personally in the Court. Suu Kyi requested from the ICJ to drop the allegations of genocide and leave it to the Myanmar’s national court to deal with any human rights abuses.
The ICJ’s decision and orders imposed on Myanmar are legally binding and must be enforced. These provisional measures require from the government to prevent any genocidal acts, ensure that police and military formations do not commit the act of genocide and to preserve evidence of genocidal acts. Myanmar is obliged to report back on its compliance within four months. The ICJ’s orders are automatically transferred to the UN Security Council which is going to asses Myanmar’s response. The country is expected to receive diplomatic support from China, which is one of the five permanent members of the Council.
According to the Guardian, the human rights lawyer Amal Clooney stated that “accountability for genocide in Myanmar is long overdue and I look forward to working on this important effort to seek judicial remedies for Rohingya survivors.” Before this, Amal Clooney also represented the former Maldivian president Mohamed Nasheed securing that his 13 years jail sentence was illegal. Clooney also defended Reuters journalists Kyaw Soe Oo and Wa Lone, who were imprisoned more than 500 days in Myanmar under the conviction of breaking the colonial-era Secrets Act. Namely, the two journalists were working on an investigation for Reuters on the killing of ten Rohingya Muslim men in Rakhine state. After Clooney’s fight before the court, they were released in May 2019.