Coalition of five European nations and Canada join The Gambia in genocide case against Myanmar at UN's highest court

Coalition of five European nations and Canada join The Gambia in genocide case against Myanmar at UN's highest court
Image by REUTERS/Clodagh Kilcoyne

Five European countries, along with Canada, are seeking to intervene in a case filed by Gambia at the United Nations International Court of Justice accusing Myanmar of genocide against the Rohingya minority.

On Thursday, the International Court of Justice announced that Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and the United Kingdom had joined Canada in filing a "statement of intervention in the case." Meanwhile, the Maldives also filed a separate statement.

The move gives the countries the right to present their legal arguments in the case, which will be filed in 2019, according to the court's rules. The case arose in response to international condemnation of the mistreatment of the Rohingya minority, which led to hundreds of thousands fleeing to neighboring Bangladesh during a brutal crackdown by Myanmar forces.

The Gambia argued that it and Myanmar are parties to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention of Genocide and that all states that have signed the convention have a responsibility to ensure its implementation. The Gambia is asking the court to declare that Myanmar has violated the provisions of the convention.

Although a hearing for the case has not yet been scheduled, the court has ruled that it has jurisdiction. 

In 2017, Myanmar's military launched a "clearance operation" in Rakhine state in response to attacks by Rohingya insurgent groups. As a result, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh. Myanmar's security forces have been accused of involvement in the mass rape, murder, and burning of thousands of Rohingya homes.

However, Myanmar has denied allegations of genocide and rejected the UN findings as biased and inaccurate. The country argues that its crackdown is aimed at Rohingya militant groups allegedly involved in attacks in western Rakhine state.

In July last year, the International Court of Justice rejected Myanmar's objection to the opening of a genocide case. The decision paved the way for the case to proceed to trial.

In its case with Gambia, Myanmar unsuccessfully sought to have its case dismissed on grounds that international courts are only authorized to rule on disputes between nations, and that Gambia was acting on behalf of Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

The judges also rejected Myanmar's argument that the Gambia had no right to bring the case because it was not directly related to events in Myanmar and there was no legal dispute between the two countries before the case was filed.

The International Court of Justice has special jurisdiction to deal with disputes between states. It should be emphasized that this court has no connection with the International Criminal Court, which is also based in The Hague. The International Criminal Court is responsible for prosecuting individuals for international crimes. Currently, prosecutors at the ICC are investigating crimes committed against the Rohingya.

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