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Gambia’s cause to save an Asian ‘boat people’

Banjul and Naypyidaw may have very little in common but the plight of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar has prompted The Gambia to seek justice against the Asian nation over its treatment of the minority group which it says may border on genocide.
.The case was filed to the International Court of Justice by Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubacarr M. Tambadou.

The lawsuit is demanding  accountability for the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar whose government is accused among other things of violating the Genocide Convention.

But how did the small country of Gambia among all the countries of the world came to punch above its modest weight and champion the cause of the Rohingyas who were believed to have been persecuted and expelled from Myanmar to neighbouring Bangladesh?

In 2015, just a year before he was ousted in democratic elections Gambia’s mercurial ex president Yahya Jammeh had offered to take in the Rohingyas or boat people as they are called for purely humanitarian reasons but considerations about helping fellow Muslims in distress informed part of this decision.

Although this never happened after Jammeh lost power, the government led by his successor Adama Barrow took off from where he had left off, offering to fight on for the minority group on the international stage.

“it is a sacred duty to help alleviate the untold hardships and sufferings fellow human beings are confronted with” said Banjul during one of the international fora tabling the Rohingya crisis.

At a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference earlier this year, it was unanimously agreed that The Gambia should lead the Muslim world’s international drive seeking justice for the boat people whose population in Myanmar has dwindled from almost two million to a few hundred thousand since 2014. 

Many had fled to Southeast Asian neighbours including Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand.

According to Human Rights Watch state parties to the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and  Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as a matter of principle agree over what constitutes genocide.

 “Whether committed in time of peace or in time of war, it is a crime under international law which they undertake to prevent and to punish” said HRW shortly after news filtered through on Monday that The Gambia had filed the suit.

The convention makes it possible for ICJ member states to bring a dispute before it against another member country deemed by the litigating nation to have been in breach of the convention.

Myanmar, the defendant in this case became a party to the convention in 1956.

“The court’s prompt adoption of provisional measures could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar.” Param-Preet Singh, HRW’s associate international justice director said.

The UN which regards the Rohingyas as one of the most persecuted minorities in the world claims it has evidence the government in Myanmar formerly Burma has been inciting religious hatred and intolerance by Buddhists.

It accused the Myanmar military of carrying out summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detentions, torture and  ill-treatment, and forced labour against the minority group.

Published on 28.04.2020

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