Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Marie-Claude Bibeau, Minister of International Development and La Francophonie, arrive at the National Press Theatre to make an announcement and hold a media availability on Canada's response to the Rohingya crisis in Ottawa on Wednesday, May 23, 2018. (Sean Kilpatrick/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

Canada welcomes genocide lawsuit against Myanmar, says Freeland

Canada welcomes Gambia’s submission of an application to launch proceedings against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice in The Hague for alleged violations of the Genocide Convention, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday.

Gambia, acting on behalf of the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, filed the lawsuit on Monday seeking to hold Myanmar accountable under international law for State-sponsored genocide against its minority Muslim population, known as the Rohingya.

“This move will help advance accountability for the genocide, which includes acts of mass murder, systemic discrimination, hate speech and sexual and gender-based violence against the Rohingya, including violence that took place in August 2017, forcing over 740,000 Rohingya to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh and triggering the creation of the largest refugee camp in the world,” Freeland said in a statement.

Canada recognized the crimes against the Rohingya as constituting a genocide through a unanimous motion in the House of Commons in September 2018, Freeland said.

The motion reiterated Canada’s call for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Myanmar to the International Criminal Court, she said.

“Canada will work with other like-minded countries to end impunity for those accused of committing the gravest crimes under international law,” Freeland said.

Canada will work with partners to support Gambia in its efforts to bring the alleged perpetrators to justice, she said.

“Canada is committed to addressing the root causes of the crisis and ensuring that the Rohingya are fully and meaningfully engaged in the development of these solutions,” Freeland said. “Ensuring that the perpetrators of these atrocities are held to account is imperative to provide justice to the victims and survivors while building lasting peace and reconciliation in Myanmar.”

The world must not stand by and do nothing’

Rohingya refugees Mohamed Heron, 6, and his brother Mohamed Akter, 4, pose for a portrait to show burns on their bodies at Kutupalong refugee camp, near Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh, October 14, 2017. Boys’ uncle Mohamed Inus said burns resulted from Myanmar’s armed forces firing rockets at their village. (Jorge Silva/File/ REUTERS)

The lawsuit by Gambia also asks the Court to order Myanmar to cease and desist from all acts of genocide, to punish those responsible, including senior government officials and military officers, and to make reparations to the victims.

The world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of terrible atrocities that are occurring around us,” said Gambia’s justice minister and attorney general, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou. “It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes.”

The suit requests, as a matter of extreme urgency, that the Court order “Provisional Measures” to stop Myanmar’s genocidal conduct immediately, in order to prevent further harm to the Rohingya people while the case is pending. The Court is expected to hold oral hearings on this request next month.

“The world has talked about preventing genocide after Bosnia, after Rwanda, after Darfur and then after two years of ongoing atrocities against the Rohingya minority, Gambia said enough is enough and brought this case, which is historic,” Canadian international law expert Payam Akhavan, who was part of Gambia’s legal team that launched the lawsuit, told Radio Canada International in a phone interview from The Hague.

“Because unlike the case of Bosnia vs. Serbia, it is not a country that is directly affected, so it’s really Gambia as a disinterested, if you like altruistic state bringing this case on behalf of the entire international community, on behalf of humanity.”

‘Historic and highly significant’

A Rohingya boy carries a child while walking in the mud after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border in Teknaf, Bangladesh, September 1, 2017.
(Mohammad Ponir Hossain/REUTERS)

Akhavan, a former UN prosecutor and McGill University law professor, said the hope is that scrutiny of Myanmar’s alleged violations of international law will help alleviate the suffering of some 600,000 Rohingya that remain in Myanmar.

“This case is historic and highly significant, it’s an example of moral leadership on the global stage and it’s worthy of everyone’s support,” Akhavan said.

The suit alleges that Myanmar’s actions, “which include killing, causing serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions that are calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcible transfers, are genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”

These genocidal acts are documented extensively by independent investigative efforts undertaken by United Nations experts and bodies, including the UN Human Rights Council’s Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, and have been corroborated by international human rights organizations and other credible sources.

Last month, Myanmar’s U.N. ambassador, Hau Do Suan, called the U.N. fact-finding mission “one-sided” and based on “misleading information and secondary sources.” He said Myanmar’s government takes accountability seriously and that perpetrators of all human rights violations “causing the large outflow of displaced persons to Bangladesh must be held accountable.”

The suit was brought under the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, adopted by the United Nations in 1948, in the aftermath of the atrocities committed during World War II. Gambia and Myanmar are both parties to the Convention.

With files from The Associated Press

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