Gambia has filed a case at the United Nations’ top court accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority, Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said on Monday.
The International Court of Justice (ICJ), also known as the World Court, is the United Nations’ top legal institution that rules on disputes between states.
“We have just submitted our application to the ICJ under the Genocide Convention,” Tambadou told a news conference in The Hague, where the court is based.
He told The Associated Press 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."
Both Gambia and Myanmar are signatories to the 1948 Genocide Convention, which not only prohibits states from committing genocide but also compels all signatory states to prevent and punish the crime of genocide.
The tiny West African nation, which is predominantly Muslim, has filed its case with the support of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
More than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims fled to neighboring Bangladesh following a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military, which UN investigators have said was executed with “genocidal intent”.
The head of a UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned last month that "there is a serious risk of genocide recurring."
Myanmar, which has a Buddhist majority, denies accusations of genocide and says its crackdown targeted militant separatists in Rakhine state.
The International Criminal Court's prosecutor also asked judges at that court in July for permission to open a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she wants to investigate crimes of deportation, inhumane acts and persecution allegedly committed as Rohingya were driven from Myanmar, which is not a member of the global court, into Bangladesh, which is.
In its filing, Gambia asked the court to grant so-called provisional measures to make sure Myanmar immediately “stops atrocities and genocide against its own Rohingya people”.
The law firm helping Gambia, Foley Hoag, said it expected the first hearings on the provisional measures to take place next month.
Human rights groups which have been pushing the international community to act in the Rohingya crisis hailed Gambia’s move.
“Gambia has found a way to turn the international community’s hand-wringing over the Rohingya into action,” Param-Preet Singh of Human Rights Watch told Reuters.
While the ICJ has no means to enforce any of its rulings, going against the decisions of the court could further harm Myanmar’s international reputation.