The federal government will consider how to best support a genocide lawsuit against Myanmar’s government over the forced displacement of more than 740,000 Rohingya Muslims, the Canadian special envoy to Myanmar says, including how Canada and other countries could help fund the case and intervene in proceedings.
Gambia, a tiny, mostly Muslim country in West Africa, filed the dispute at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) – the principal judicial organ of the United Nations – on Monday, accusing Myanmar of violating the Genocide Convention. In a statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Monday that Canada will “explore options” to support the case – something Bob Rae, the special envoy, elaborated on in an interview with The Globe and Mail Tuesday.
Mr. Rae said Canada and other countries could help ensure Gambia’s case against Myanmar is “well financed and getting the best legal advice possible.” He said Canada could also work with like-minded countries to figure out what they are prepared to do to support the lawsuit, including whether any would be willing to intervene in the case against Myanmar.
“What would be the possible role of an additional intervention from Canada and other countries? We want to explore with the ICJ and with others what would be the most constructive way for that to take place,” he said.
However, Mr. Rae said the government has not made any decisions about how it will proceed. He said its next steps will be clearer after Prime Minister Justin Trudeau appoints his new cabinet on Nov. 20.
Gambia filed the lawsuit against Myanmar with the support of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, a group of 57 Muslim countries. The suit alleges the Myanmar military and security forces committed “genocidal acts” intended to destroy the Rohingya through the use of “mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence."
Violence erupted in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August, 2017, after Rohingya insurgents attacked police posts and an army base. Myanmar’s military responded with a violent crackdown, triggering an exodus of Rohingya. More than 742,000 Rohingya, an ethnic minority largely denied citizenship in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, have since fled to Bangladesh, according to the UN refugee agency.
In September, 2018, Canada’s Parliament unanimously deemed the violent campaign against Rohingya Muslims a genocide. Earlier this year, 34 senators and more than 100 human-rights organizations and advocates called on Ms. Freeland to initiate proceedings against Myanmar at the ICJ.
John Packer, former assistant to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar who is now a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said Canada could have initiated the ICJ case, as Gambia did.
“We’re not little, weak Gambia. Gambia had to raise millions of dollars. We can cover that ourselves in a split second," he said.
Prof. Packer said Canada could play a particularly helpful intervenor role by bringing a feminist lens to the case, especially when it comes to sounding the alarm about allegations of sexual violence by Myanmar officials against the Rohingya.
Human Rights Watch said Gambia’s case represents “the first judicial scrutiny of Myanmar’s campaign" against the Rohingya. It recognized that Canada, along with Bangladesh, Nigeria, Turkey and France, have declared Myanmar’s violations against the Rohingya a genocide.
Last year, the Liberal government committed $300-million to help respond to the Rohingya refugee crisis. The money funds efforts to hold perpetrators to account, find a political solution to the crisis and improve conditions in crowded Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.