European nations join Myanmar genocide case

The case at the UN’s top court accuses Yangon of committing genocide against people belonging to the Rohingya community.

Newly-arrived Rohingya refugees wait to be transferred to a shelter in Batee beach, Aceh province, Indonesia.
Newly arrived Rohingya refugees wait to be transferred to a shelter in Batee beach, Aceh province, Indonesia [File: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP]

Five European countries and Canada have teamed up to join the genocide case at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) that accuses Myanmar of committing genocide against the mostly Muslim Rohingya.

Denmark, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Britain filed a joint declaration of intervention in the case, lodged by The Gambia in 2019, the United Nations’ highest court said late on Thursday.

The group cited “common interest in the accomplishment of the high purposes” of the 1948 convention on the prevention and punishment of genocide.

“We want to make a contribution to clarifying and combating genocide. We are particularly focus on violence against women and children,” Tania von Uslar, Director-General for Germany’s Legal Affairs said in a post on X.

The court said that The Maldives has filed a separate declaration accusing Myanmar of genocide.

Under ICJ’s rules, the declarations mean these countries will be able to make legal arguments in the case brought forward in 2019 following international outrage at the treatment of the Muslim-minority Rohingya community.

Rohingya advocacy groups welcomed the move.

“The intervention of other countries in support of the Gambia strengthens the case, and increases the pressure on the Burmese military who are still committing genocide against Rohingya,” Tun Khin, President of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation said in a statement.

“For decades, Rohingya have suffered in Burma, being discriminated against, having our citizenship removed and our freedom of movement curtailed. Thousands of Rohingya women, children and men died in attacks against our people in 2017, and almost 800,000 fled to Bangladesh. Finally, as Rohingya, we can see that justice is coming closer.”

A UN fact-finding mission concluded that the 2017 crackdown, orchestrated by the military had included “genocidal acts”.

Myanmar has denied genocide, rejecting the UN findings as “biased and flawed”. It has said its crackdown was aimed at Rohingya fighters who had carried out attacks in western Rakhine state.

But the ICJ rejected Myanmar’s objections to the genocide proceedings in July last year, paving the way for the case to be heard in full.

Rohingya refugees face difficult conditions

Bangladesh currently hosts nearly one million Rohingya refugees who live in overcrowded and under-resourced camps.

Last month, officials from Myanmar, which was plunged into renewed crisis by a military coup in February 2021, met Rohingya refugee families there to discuss their return.

Under a repatriation plan, brokered during a three-way meeting between the two countries and China, Myanmar agreed to accept the return of about 3,000 refugees by December.

But many refugees have refused to go back, fearing further persecution.

Rohingya refugees crammed onto the deck of a wooden boat. One person is clambering up the side.
Newly arrived Rohingya refugees are stranded on their boat as the nearby community decided not to allow them land after providing water and food in Pineung, Aceh province [File: Amanda Jufrian / AFP]

In recent days, nearly 600 Rohingya have arrived in nearby Indonesia after taking perilous journeys across the sea.

However, while the people of Aceh in Indonesia have previously welcomed refugees, who are taken to a temporary camp before they are usually moved to other parts of Indonesia, tensions have been escalating as the number of arrivals has grown.

About 250 Rohingya refugees were afloat off the coast of Indonesia on Friday after local residents pushed them back out to sea.

It was the third boat to reach Indonesia’s northernmost province since Tuesday. The two others, which arrived in a different location, were allowed to land.

In a statement sent to Al Jazeera, KontraS Aceh, the Commission for Missing Persons and Victims of Violence, said that one of the issues was that the government had no comprehensive plan to deal with the refugees, despite a 2016 presidential decree that states that the government will collaborate with institutions such as the United Nations and other international organisations to handle arrivals.

“When the government is silent and lets this problem drag on, this kind of rejection happens and it is very troubling,” Azharul Husna, the coordinator of KontraS in Aceh said.

KontraS Aceh added that it had urged the Indonesian government to help the refugees and immediately ratify the 1951 Refugee Convention.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies