The International Court of Justice (ICJ), the United Nations’ principal judicial organ, has started public hearings in a genocide case against Myanmar at the Peace Palace in The Hague of the Netherlands.
Fifteen jurists along with two other ad hoc judges independently appointed by Myanmar and the Gambia began the hearings on Tuesday. Professor Claus Kress will represent Myanmar while and South African jurist Navanethem (Navi) Pillay will stand in favour of the Gambia in the hearings.
Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has already arrived at the UN’s top court to personally defend Myanmar against accusations of genocide against Rohingyas while the Gambia’s justice minister Abubakr Tambadou.
As per the law, the two ad hoc jurists took the oath at the beginging of the hearings.
The purpose of this hearing at ICJ is to determine whether Myanmar has violated the global convention by unleashing genocide on Rohingya people.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) is situated at a distance of 10 kilometers in this city. Allegations of committing crimes against humanity are now under investigation against Myanmar in this court.
The case filed by the Gambia is epoch-making for two reasons.
Firstly, despite not being a neighbouring country and several thousand kilometers away from Myanmar, the Gambia, an African country and being signatory to the global convention, is the plaintiff in the case. Earlier, the cases were filed at ICJ on charges of genocides among the neighbouring countries (Serbia vs Bosnia and Serbia vs Croatia).
Secondly, a politician, who was awarded Nobel Prize for peace, is appearing at the Peace Palace to explain on the genocide. Winning the Nobel Prize in 1992 and after 28 years of military rule, first civilian government chief Aung San Suu Kyi is appearing before the international court to present the arguments behind the tyranny of the military. Since the operation of the military against the Rohingyas in August of 2017, Suu Kyi rarely took part in global forums.
It is learnt that a case was filed against Suu Kyi under the universal jurisdiction principle in Netherlands, but it cannot be ascertained.
A Syrian rebel leader has been arrested on charges of war crimes in a case filed under this principle in the Netherlands.
But there is no possibility of Suu Kyi’s arrest as the head of the state as she enjoys impunity. An arrest warrant has been issued in a similar case in Argentina.
The attorney general and the law minister of the Gambia, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, will represent the Gambia. Experienced in conducting case filed over the Rwanda genocide at International Crimes Tribunal (ICC), Tambadou along with top legal experts including British legal scholar Philip Sands are supposed to participate in the hearing.
The Gambia will present its arguments on Tuesday and Myanmar will place its arguments tomorrow (Wednesday). The Gambia will place its final arguments on Thursday morning and Myanmar in the afternoon. It will take eight weeks to several years to get the verdict in the case.
Myanmar expert and BBC World service former news editor Larry Jagan in an article in Bangkok Post on Monday said international legal expert and Canadian human rights affairs lawyer professor William Sabse will lead Myanmar side.
Except The Gambia and Myanmar, the representatives of several other countries and organisations headed to Hague on the eve of hearing. The countries include Bangladesh and Canada. The diplomats of Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC) have also reached. Besides, Rohingya rights activists and supporters of Myanmar government also thronged there.
In the petition submitted to the court on 11 November, The Gambia said genocidal acts took place during the cleansing operation by the security force and the motive was to destroy Rohingyas.
Random killing, rape and sexual violence and setting fire to houses by confining people were carried out in planned manner.
The Gambia brought out allegations against Myanmar for violating convention under the section 3 of international convention on genocide. Both the Gambia and Myanmar are signatory to this convention in 1948 and there is a scope of settlement for violation of the convention under that section.
On 11 October, the Gambia wrote to Myanmar drawing its attention to the violation of the convention.
Phillipe Gautier, the newly appointed registrar of the ICJ, in recent interview with UN Radio, said ICJ plays a crucial role in fulfilling one of the major tasks of the UN Charter in the maintenance of peace and security.
None can bring out any allegation without this court. Without the consent of the parties engaged in dispute, the court does not settle any dispute.
The legal experts are considering the participation of Myanmar as a positive sign.
The Gambia has requested for taking some interim steps to protect Rohingyas and to ensure justice for them.
The requests include stopping all kinds of repressions on Rohingyas and not to destroy the evidence of genocide.
Canada and Netherlands will extend all sorts of cooperation and support to The Gambia carrying out the trial of Rohingya genocide against Myanmar.
These two countries made the declaration in a joint statement ahead of the hearing.
The court of 15 judges are President Abdulqawi Ahmed Yusuf, Somalia, Vice-President Xue Hanqin, China, Judge Peter Tomka, Slovakia, Judge Ronny Abraham, France, Judge Mohamed Bennouna, Morocco, Judge Antônio Augusto Cançado Trindade, Brazil, Judge Joan E. Donoghue, United States of America, Judge Giorgio Gaja, Italy, Judge Julia Sebutinde, Uganda, Judge Dalveer Bhandari, India, Judge Patrick Lipton Robinson, Jamaica, Judge James Richard Crawford, Australia, Judge Kirill Gevorgian, Russian Federation, Judge Nawaf Salam, Lebanon and Judge Yuji Iwasawa, Japan.
*This report, originally published in Prothom Alo print and online edition, has been rewritten in English by Rabiul Islam and Toriqul Islam.