Gambia: Africa Insiders - Tiny Gambia Stands Up for the Rohingya

18 December 2019

The essentials: A case of alleged genocide brought against Myanmar by The Gambia in defence of the Rohingya people was heard last week. The Gambia's Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou led the delegation at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague while Myanmar leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, spoke for Myanmar.

The context: The Gambia has been hailed for standing up for Myanmar's Rohingya, a Muslim minority, many of whom fled the country to Bangladesh due to persecution. Tambadou pushed for the ICJ case after he visited overcrowded refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, a city in Bangladesh last year. The minister had been attending a conference of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC) and what he saw and heard, he said, was proof of genocide.

Tambadou, a human rights lawyer, had been part of the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda and helped prosecute war criminals following the 1994 genocide. Now, he is taking on Myanmar on behalf of the OIC.

The court hearings took place over three days with Tambadou accusing Myanmar of acts of genocide and urging the court to step in and take actions to stop violence against the Rohingya. Suu Kyi, in Myanmar's defence, denied the allegations and claimed security forces have only been responding to an insurgency in Rakhine State, which housed a significant Rohingya population. Suu Kyi accused Tambadou of painting an inaccurate picture of the conflict and misleading the court.

The good: Gambia's solidarity with the Rohingya has earned it praise, with many noting that the small West African country stepped up when more powerful Muslim majority countries have not even attempted to stand with the minority group. Rohingya refugees chanted "Gambia, Gambia" as they watched the court proceedings. It's especially commendable that The Gambia is fighting for justice in a land far from its shores at a time when it is still healing from former dictator Yayha Jammeh's brutal rule.

The bad: The court is expected to make a ruling on the case next month but there are fears that genocide, which requires that intent be proven, will be ruled out. While some say The Gambia's actions would then have been for nothing, it's important to highlight that fighting for justice, whatever the results, should never count as nothing.

The future: The world awaits a ruling and many hope it'll be in favour of the Gambian minister, and thus, the Rohingya. The impact of the ruling itself is being questioned: The ICJ's 1993 rulings had little effect in preventing mass killings like the Srebrenica massacre, for example. What's without doubt, however, is that a tiny African country can be a loud voice on human rights.

Written by Shola Lawal

The Africa Insiders' Newsletter is a collaboration between and @PeterDoerrie, with contributions from @_andrew_green and @Shollytupe and assistance from Stella Nantongo. Part of the subscription revenue is funding in-depth and freely accessible reporting and analysis on African Arguments.

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