THE HAGUE – Myanmar was accused Monday of genocide at the U.N.'s highest court for its campaign against the country's Rohingya Muslim minority, as lawyers asked the International Court of Justice to urgently order measures "to stop Myanmar's genocidal conduct immediately."
Gambia filed the case on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Gambia's justice minister and attorney general, Abubacarr Marie Tambadou, told The Associated Press he wanted to "send a clear message to Myanmar and to the rest of the international community that the world must not stand by and do nothing in the face of terrible atrocities that are occurring around us. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right before our own eyes."
Myanmar officials did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
Myanmar's military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.
The head of a U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned last month that "there is a serious risk of genocide recurring."
The mission also said in its final report in September that Myanmar should be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against the Rohingya.
The case filed at the International Court of Justice, also known as the world court, alleges that Myanmar's campaign against the Rohingya, which includes "killing, causing serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions that are calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcible transfers, are genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part."
Tambadou said in a statement: "Gambia is taking this action to seek justice and accountability for the genocide being committed by Myanmar against the Rohingya, and to uphold and strengthen the global norm against genocide that is binding upon all states."
Param-Preet Singh, associate international justice director at Human Rights Watch, called the case a "game changer" and called on other states to support it.
The world court ordering provisional measures "could help stop the worst ongoing abuses against the Rohingya in Myanmar," she said.
The International Criminal Court's prosecutor also asked judges at that court in July for permission to open a formal investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed against Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.
Prosecutor Fatou Bensouda said she wants to investigate crimes of deportation, inhumane acts and persecution allegedly committed as Rohingya were driven from Myanmar, which is not a member of the global court, into Bangladesh, which is.
The International Criminal Court holds individuals responsible for crimes while the International Court of Justice settles disputes between nations. Both courts are based in The Hague.
Last month, Myanmar's U.N. ambassador, Hau Do Suan, called the U.N. fact-finding mission "one-sided" and based on "misleading information and secondary sources." He said Myanmar's government takes accountability seriously and that perpetrators of all human rights violations "causing the large outflow of displaced persons to Bangladesh must be held accountable."
Simon Adams, Executive Director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect, welcomed the filing.
"The international community failed to prevent a genocide in Myanmar, but it is not too late to hold the State of Myanmar accountable for its crimes," he said.
Yasmin Ullah, a Rohingya activist based in Canada, said the court case helps by recognizing the suffering of her people.
"It is so important for us to feel like our pain is recognized because we've internalized all our lives that we're not worthy and so that's why it's such an emotional moment," she told AP after a panel discussion in The Hague.
"But it also is important that the word 'genocide' has been uttered so much within one hour ... and we've pushed so hard for it for such a long time and finally it is being heard."