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 [File: Chaideer Mahyuddin/AFP]Published On 17 Nov 202317 Nov 2023

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 Rohingya community.

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

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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.

A UN fact-finding mission concluded that a 2017 military campaign by Myanmar that drove 730,000 Rohingya into neighbouring Bangladesh had included “genocidal acts”.

Myanmar has denied genocide, rejecting the UN findings as “biased and flawed”. It says its crackdown was aimed at Rohingya rebels who had carried out attacks.

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, Myanmar officials met Rohingya refugee families there to discuss their repatriation.

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.

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, escalating tensions in Myanmar have seen nearly 600 Rohingya people fleeing to neighbouring Indonesia.

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 more and more Rohingya have arrived.

About 250 Rohingya refugees were afloat off the coast of Indonesia on Friday after attempts to land the previous day were aborted by local residents.

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