The Gambia filed a case against Myanmar with the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Monday alleging that Myanmar has committed genocide against the Rohingya ethnic group, in violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.
The Gambia claims that the Myanmar military has committed, and continues to commit, genocidal act against the Rohingya. These acts include, but are not limited to, mass murder, rape and the systematic destruction of Rohingya villages. Myanmar denies the allegations, as it has done for several years.
The ICJ normally only rules on disputes between states directly involved in the situation. As such, by filing a complaint with the ICJ, The Gambia has taken an unprecedented step. Nevertheless, Articles VIII and IX of the Convention allow for signing states to go to an appropriate body of the UN and request action to prevent or suppress any acts of genocide.
While the UN Security Council may be considered an “appropriate body of the UN,” The Gambia has likely refrained from going to them because any action would presumably be vetoed by China, as China maintains a close relationship with Myanmar. Ultimately, the ICJ lacks the ability to enforce its rulings, and it is uncertain if the increased international pressure would impact the actions of Myanmar’s government or military. However, if the ICJ were to require the military leaders stand trial for genocide, they would have to remain in Myanmar or risk being extradited for trial.
In 2018 an independent investigation, acting on behalf of the UN Human Rights Council, found evidence of genocide and recommended that the leaders of Myanmar’s military stand trial. Both Gambia and Myanmar are signatories to the Convention.