The United Nations’ top court is set to decide on Thursday on ordering emergency action to protect the Rohingya people in Myanmar, a ruling Canada will watch closely as it considers whether it will involve itself in a genocide lawsuit against the Southeast Asian nation.
The International Court of Justice will issue a decision on a request to order “provisional measures” to protect Rohingya in Myanmar from the risk of genocide while the court hears the lawsuit. Bob Rae, Canada’s special envoy to Myanmar, said Ottawa is awaiting the ICJ’s decision before deciding on next steps, including the possibility of becoming an intervenor in the genocide lawsuit.
“The government has indicated its level of interest and certainly government lawyers are looking at it very carefully … but I’m not going to predict what’s going to happen until we see exactly what the court decides,” Mr. Rae told The Globe and Mail.
“It’s fair to say that everybody’s waiting for the next shoe to drop.”
Gambia, a tiny, mostly Muslim country in West Africa, filed the lawsuit at the ICJ last year, alleging the Myanmar military and security forces committed “genocidal acts” intended to destroy the Rohingya. Gambia is asking the court to order emergency measures for Myanmar to immediately prevent extrajudicial killings, rape and sexual violence against the Rohingya, and to ensure any evidence of atrocities is preserved.
Canada and the Netherlands have been looking for ways to support Gambia in its case against Myanmar – something Foreign Affairs Minister François-Philippe Champagne discussed in a meeting with his Dutch counterpart last week in London. Mr. Champagne’s spokesman, Adam Austen, did not say this week if Canada will intervene in the case against Myanmar: “We await the court’s decision with interest.”
John Packer, a former assistant to the UN Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar who is now a law professor at the University of Ottawa, said the international community is looking to Canada to take a leadership role in the case.
“After committing in December to ‘explore the options’ following the court’s forthcoming decision, perhaps Canada might finally decide to act. Others are watching and would follow the Canadian lead. But just applauding from the sidelines is not action, and is not enough to advance the case," Prof. Packer said.
During proceedings in The Hague last month, Myanmar’s de facto prime minister, Aung San Suu Kyi, asked the court to reject Gambia’s request for provisional measures and dismiss the genocide lawsuit. She told the court it had been given a “misleading” picture of the situation, arguing her country’s justice system should be given the chance to work first.
Mr. Rae said Thursday’s decision is an “important step” in ensuring transparency if the genocide lawsuit, which is expected to take years, proceeds.
“The government of Myanmar and their lawyers asked for the case to be dismissed and if that were to happen, obviously, it would be a difficult outcome, but if the ICJ retains jurisdiction, then what we can hope for is some level of accountability, preliminary accountability, on providing greater information,” Mr. Rae said.
Mr. Rae briefed federal ministers last weekend during a cabinet meeting in Winnipeg. While he could not disclose what he told ministers owing to cabinet confidence, he said he will return to Bangladesh and the region in the coming weeks.
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 700,000 Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh. For decades, the minority have faced discrimination and persecution in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where they are largely denied citizenship.
In 2018, the Canadian 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.
With a report from Reuters