The UK should join the ICJ case against the Myanmar genocide
The ongoing case on behalf of the Rohingya people at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) against Myanmar for genocide has been initiated and championed by the small nation of The Gambia and has broken new ground in international law for being the first case of its kind brought by one UN country against another. In truth, all signatories to the UN Genocide Convention have the ability, and indeed the moral responsibility, to prosecute the crime of genocide wherever it may occur. And the UK should lend its full backing to the action by The Gambia.
This step seems to have become more likely with over 100 members of parliament signing a letter addressed to the government that the UK should be joining the legal action led by The Gambia. Among the signatories is the former UK Foreign Secretary, Rt Hon Jeremy Hunt MP, which lends further weight to this initiative.
The main reason for reticence from the UK government, in this case, is that Myanmar is its former colony, and the British state does therefore bear some responsibility for the manner in which borders were drawn when the Raj was dissolved and the numerous countries under it received independence. But that does not mean the UK should stay away from the issue. Quite the opposite: It should mean that the UK has an extra responsibility to come to the defense of the Rohingya people, who were formerly its own colonial subjects.
The UK should not be dissuaded from acting by some contrived argument from Myanmar that this would be “neo-colonialism.” This is merely the normal, established process of international law, to be played out at the court in The Hague. The UK does not stand to make any material gains from any of this, nor indeed would it gain any kind of political leverage over Myanmar. Obviously, if anything, the opposite would be the case. Moreover, the people who should be heard out on this issue above all others are the Rohingya victims themselves. And they have been calling for more states to act on their behalf through the ICJ.
The UK should not be dissuaded from acting by some contrived argument that its joining the ongoing genocide case initiated by Gambia against Myanmar would be “neo-colonialism.”
Dr. Azeem Ibrahim
There are no legal or procedural obstacles for the UK to join the action by The Gambia or indeed to initiate their own independent action. The UK acceded to the Genocide Convention on Jan. 30, 1970 without reservation and could take the very same steps The Gambia took to initiate their own effort. But the more collaborative option would be to join the already ongoing action by The Gambia, and the process for doing that is even simpler: The UK would only need to apply to join it as a party on the same appeal to general public interest that was invoked by The Gambia, namely, that the prohibition of "genocide" and the duties to prevent and to prosecute are all peremptory norms of international law.
It is certainly the case that the UK could bring in to bear a great deal of expertise in international law, as well as evidence-gathering capacities that far exceed that of The Gambia, but the UK could also use its diplomatic standing to bring in many more states into the action, lending it as much weight as possible, as per the desires of the Rohingya.
Should this case succeed, it would be a watershed moment in the history of international law. We have had the Genocide Convention on the international statute books for decades now, genocides still happen, and holding perpetrators accountable for them is almost as difficult as ever. If successful, this case could demonstrate what robust enforcement of the convention would actually look like, and with the much more real threat of enforcement, the convention might finally become the deterrent it was intended to be. The UK has the historic opportunity to take a position of leadership on this issue and once again shape the future of our global village for the better.
The UK should not be dissuaded from acting by some contrived argument that its joining the ongoing genocide case initiated by Gambia against Myanmar would be “neo-colonialism.” The UK has the historic opportunity to take a position of leadership on this issue and once again shape the future of our global village for the better.
• Dr. Azeem Ibrahim is the author of “The Rohingyas: Inside Myanmar’s Genocide” (Hurst, 2017)