The Gambia has filed a lawsuit with the United Nations’ top court accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against its Muslim Rohingya minority.
The small Muslim majority country in West Africa submitted a 46-page complaint with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Nov. 11 in which it accused Myanmar of mass murder and destroying villages and communities.
It also states that according to ICJ rules, U.N. member states can bring legal action against each other regarding allegations of international law violations. Gambia has lodged a case under the 1948 convention on prevent and punishment of genocide.
If the court accepts the application, it will be the first time it has taken on a genocide case without following a recommendation from another tribunal.
Other Muslim countries are supporting the claim by Gambia, which is a member of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
The Gambia’s submission states Myanmar’s military began “clearance operations” against the Rohingya in October 2016 which were “intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group … using mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses.”
This was preceded by calls from hard-line nationalist groups in Myanmar’s Rakhine State for a “final solution” to be found to deal with the Rohingya and a dehumanization campaign launched on social media by army officers.
The country’s military began its operations against the ethnic group soon after three border police posts were attacked by a small band of Rohingya on Oct. 9 of that year.
Troops “systematically shot, killed, forcibly disappeared, raped, gang-raped, sexually assaulted, detained, beat and tortured Rohingya civilians, and burned down and destroyed Rohingya homes, mosques, madrassas, shops and Qurans,” the Gambian submission alleges.
“The U.N. fact-finding mission reported that at the village of Dar Gyi Zar, soldiers captured a group of up to 200 men, women and children, and took them to a paddy field, where they were told to kneel,” it says.
The men and boys were later separated from the women who later heard gunshots before discovering the bodies of their loved ones, some of whom had been burned alive, while others had their throats slit the submission adds.
It also says the 600,000 Rohingya who remain in Myanmar following an exodus of refugees to neighboring Bangladesh are at serious risk of further atrocities.
It calls for an immediate end to the persecution, those responsible for the crimes to be brought to justice and for the victims to be compensated.
The prime mover behind the Gambia’s actions was its attorney-general, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, who previously served as a special assistant to the prosecutor at the international criminal tribunal for Rwanda.
He wanted to “send a clear message to Myanmar and to the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of terrible atrocities that are occurring around us. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes,” The Guardian newspaper quoted him as saying.
It is expected that the ICJ will hold an initial hearing in the Hague in December.