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Rohingya refugees watch a live feed of Aung San Suu Kyi's appearance at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, on the second day of her hearing on the Rohingya genocide case, in southern Bangladesh on Dec. 11, 2019.

MUNIR UZ ZAMAN/AFP/Getty Images

Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar says the government will work with the Netherlands to consider intervening in a genocide lawsuit against Myanmar over its mistreatment of Rohingya Muslims.

Bob Rae told The Globe and Mail on Wednesday that Canada and the Netherlands are looking for ways to participate in the genocide case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Mr. Rae is in The Hague this week observing the lawsuit’s opening statements.

"There will come a point when the court may ask some countries – members of the [Genocide] Convention – if they have an interest in answering questions of a legal nature. There may be an opportunity for Canada to intervene directly,” Mr. Rae said.

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Canada and the Netherlands have emerged in the past week as the biggest international backers of Gambia’s genocide case against Myanmar. Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok told Dutch MPs in a briefing this week that the two countries would work together to build support in the international community for the case.

Gambia, a tiny, mostly Muslim country in West Africa, filed the dispute at the ICJ – the principal judicial organ of the United Nations – last month, alleging the Myanmar military and security forces committed “genocidal acts” intended to destroy the Rohingya. In a statement on Monday, Global Affairs Canada said the Canadian government was working with the Netherlands to “explore all options” to support Gambia in the case, but did not provide any more details.

Mr. Rae said he intends to raise the issue of financial support for Gambia with Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne. This week’s hearings at the ICJ are only the first step in what will likely be a years-long process to determine whether a genocide has in fact been committed.

“I was looking at the six or seven lawyers in the front [who make up Gambia’s legal counsel in the case] thinking, ‘This is going to be expensive,'” Mr. Rae said.

Fareed Khan, a spokesman for the Rohingya Human Rights Network, said Canada has had more than enough time to decide how it will support the case. “Why is Canada being so hesitant?"

Gambia filed the lawsuit with the support of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a group of 57 Muslim countries. Mr. Khan said Canada could likely count on support from OIC member states in next year’s United Nations Security Council seat election if it stepped up its support for genocide case. Canada is vying for one of 10 rotating, non-permanent Security Council seats in 2021-22.

Myanmar’s de facto prime minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, opened her government’s defence against accusations on Wednesday, telling the court it had been given “an incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation.”

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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 more than 700,00 Rohingya to neighbourghing Bangladesh. For decades, the mostly-Muslim minority have faced discrimination and persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are largely denied citizenship.

Last year, Parliament unanimously deemed the violent campaign against the Rohingya a genocide and stripped Ms. Suu Kyi of her honorary Canadian citizenship after an international outcry over her failure to stem the violence.

Conservative foreign affairs critic Erin O’Toole expressed concern about Ms. Suu Kyi’s attempt on Wednesday to “refute" evidence that clearly demonstrates genocidal acts.

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