Gambia urges UN tribunal to pursue Rohingya genocide case

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — Lawyers for The Gambia on Wednesday urged the United Nations’ highest court to reject Myanmar’s legal bid to end a case accusing the Southeast Asian nation of genocide against the country’s Rohingya minority.

“This tribunal must dismiss Myanmar’s baseless preliminary objections and proceed to adjudication on the merits of this dispute,” Gambia’s Attorney General and Justice Minister Dawda Jallow told judges at the International Court of Justice.

Lawyer Paul S. Reichler said the military takeover of Myanmar last year made the case all the more important as the country’s new rulers are believed to be behind the atrocities committed against the Rohingyas.

“If they can escape the jurisdiction of the court, they will be held accountable to no one and there will be no compulsion to their persecution and ultimate destruction of the Rohingya,” he warned, adding that “the Rohingya remain under grave threat from mass atrocities. ”

The case stems from what the Myanmar military called a mine clearance campaign it launched in Rakhine state in 2017 after an attack by a group of Rohingya insurgents. Security forces have been blamed for mass rapes, murders and burning thousands of homes as more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh.

The African nation of Gambia has argued that the 2017 crackdown amounts to genocide and is calling on the world court to hold Myanmar accountable.

On Monday, lawyers representing Myanmar’s military-installed government urged judges at the world court to dismiss the case, arguing they lacked jurisdiction, in part because they say Gambia was acting as a doorway. -word of an organization of Muslim nations.

Myanmar’s legal team was led by Ko Ko Hlaing, the Minister for International Cooperation. He replaced pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, who led the country’s legal team during earlier hearings in the case in 2019. She is now in prison after being convicted of what her supporters call false accusations.

The head of the Gambian legal team pointed out that the case was brought by The Gambia and not by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.

“We are not anyone’s agent,” Jallow told the court.

“It’s really a dispute between The Gambia and Myanmar,” he added in a direct rebuttal to Myanmar’s argument that the Gambia case was actually brought by the Muslim organization and that the court can only hear cases between nations.

Judges will likely take months to rule on Myanmar’s preliminary objections. If they reject them, the case will go forward and will likely take years to come to a conclusion.

Democracy advocates have harshly criticized the UN tribunal for allowing the military government to represent Myanmar in a case involving alleged atrocities committed by the country’s armed forces.

“It is outrageous that the ICJ is proceeding with these hearings on the basis of representation from the junta. The junta is not the government of Myanmar, it does not represent the state of Myanmar, and it is dangerous for the court to allow it to present itself as such,” said Chris Sidoti of the advocacy group Special Advisory Council for Myanmar.

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