Oral Proceedings: The Gambia V. Myanmar

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Mr. Abubacarr Marie Tambadou

Mr. President, Honourable Judges. It is an honour to address you today as the Agent of The Republic of The Gambia in our dispute with the Republic of the Union of Myanmar. The Gambia is also pleased to be represented by a diverse team of dedicated international advocates who will speak after me in the following sequence: Professor Payam Akhavan, Mr. Andrew Loewenstein and Ms Tafadzwa Pasipanodya will each speak about a different aspect of the evidence collected by the United Nations among others; Mr. Arsalan Suleman will discuss the Court’s prima facie jurisdiction; Professor Pierre d’Argent will address the plausibility of the rights that are in dispute; Mr. Paul Reichler will address you on the urgency of provisional measures to prevent irreparable harm; and finally Professor Philippe Sands will discuss the specific measures sought by The Gambia and explain why they are needed in these exigent circumstances. I am also pleased that The Gambia’s delegation includes members of the Rohingya community, including those who have travelled from the refugee camps in Bangladesh.

Mr. President, Honourable Judges. As Attorney General of the Republic of The Gambia, I stand before you today as Agent in a dispute with the State of Myanmar, but not a conventional one that this Court is accustomed to. I stand before you to awaken the conscience of the world, and to arouse the voice of the international community. In the words of Edmund Burke, “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing”.

Mr. President, Honourable Judges. Every genocide that has occurred in history has had its own causes, unique to its historical and political context. But one thing is certain, genocide does not occur in a vacuum. It does not suddenly spring up or appear overnight out of the blue; it is preceded by a history of suspicion, mistrust, and hateful propaganda that dehumanizes the other, and then crystallizes into a frenzy of mass violence in which one group seeks the destruction, in whole or in part, of another.

But when we dehumanize others, we dehumanize ourselves as human beings. For any genocide to occur, two things must be present: a dehumanization of the other; and the indifference of the international community.

It is indeed sad for our generation that 75 years after humankind committed itself to the words “never again”, another genocide is unfolding right before our eyes, even as I make this statement to you today. Yet we do nothing to stop it. This is a stain on our collective conscience and it will be irresponsible for any of us to simply look the other way and pretend that it is not our business because it is our business. We signed up to make it our business when we, as civilized nations, committed ourselves to a pact under the 1948 Genocide Convention.

Mr. President, Honourable Judges. In early 2018, I visited the refugee camps in Bangladesh as part of a delegation of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation. As I listened to the stories of the refugees at the camp, I could smell the stench of genocide from across the border in Myanmar; stories of helplessness in the face of mass killings, of mass rape, and torture, and of children being burnt alive in the sanctuary of their homes and places of worship; stories all too familiar to me from a decade and a half of interaction with surviving victims of the 1994 Rwandan genocide in my capacity as a prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda.

When I looked in the eyes of those refugees as they recounted their devastating stories, I could see the looks of fear, of despair, of desperation, and of destruction. The looks of victims of a modern day genocide. And so we asked the question WHY? Why is the world standing by and allowing such horrors again in our lifetime?
Contrary to the views of many out there, it is not only the State of Myanmar which is on trial here! It is our collective humanity that is being put on trial. We are here because it is this Court, the International Court of Justice, the principal judicial organ of the United Nations, which epitomizes our collective conscience, and whose decisions give hope to millions of people in despair around the world.

Indeed, we come to you because we believe in the values that this Court has upheld for decades since its creation, because we know that you inspire confidence in the manner that you dispense justice, that you inspire trust in nations around the world, that you treat all sovereign nations, big or small, with equality, and that because you restore hope when all seems lost. As the guardians of our moral and legal compass under the Genocide Convention, we come to you because to the millions of us around the world, the weak, the powerless, the insignificant others, you give us hope that someone out there will listen to us, to our pains and our sorrows; that someone will give consolation to victims and protect them.

Today, the Republic of The Gambia is asking you to inspire that same hope which you have given to generations, to the Rohingya in Myanmar, to hear their cries of genocide, and their cries for help. Every day of inaction means that more people are being killed, more women are being ravaged, and more children are being burnt alive. For what crime? Only because they were born different; born of a different race and to a different religion from those who kill and rape them. And for this, Mr. President, Honourable Judges, they are being made to pay the ultimate price, genocide!
We must indeed learn lessons from history. It is clear that our best option must remain a strategy to prevent genocide and the conditions that breed it. Peace and justice must rest on the commitment of the international community to protect groups that are under threat, and to build societies based on justice and human rights. When strategies of prevention fail, as they unfortunately sometimes do, the intervention of international justice mechanisms, which have the capacity to hold States accountable, must always follow.

Mr. President, Honourable Judges, reports from various credible international organizations including the United Nations and the Organization of Islamic Cooperation indicate that many thousands of people have already died as a direct result of Myanmar’s genocidal actions, and the number of refugees on exodus is of biblical proportions.

These are not just numbers being floated around or mere statistical data, each number represents a real human being. I have met and spoken with them. They are the mothers and the fathers, the uncles and aunts, the nephews and nieces. They are people like you and me, people we all like to have and love in our own families. Every death is being mourned by a family among the Rohingya in Myanmar, and these are the lucky ones. Some families have no one left alive to mourn for them, because no member of the family was left alive to tell their story.

And we in The Gambia know only too well how it feels like to be unable to tell your story to the world, to be unable to share your pain in the hope that someone somewhere will hear and help, to feel helpless. Twenty-two years of a brutal dictatorship in my own country has taught us that we must use our moral voice in condemnation of the oppression of others wherever it occurs around the world so that others will not suffer our pain and our fate.
Mr. President, Honourable Judges. This is very much a dispute between The Gambia and Myanmar. We seek to protect not only the rights of the Rohingya, but our own rights as a State Party to the Genocide Convention by holding Myanmar to its erga omnes partes obligations not to commit genocide, not to incite genocide, and to prevent and punish genocide. The Gambia has been accusing Myanmar of failure to fulfill these obligations, and of carrying out genocide against the Rohingya, since at least early 2018, and we have done so regularly in our public and official statements since then.

Myanmar has long been well aware of The Gambia’s views, and has opposed them, by denying all responsibility for the acts of genocide, and by denying that it has violated the Genocide Convention. There being an unresolved dispute between the Parties, The Gambia has come here, to the International Court of Justice, to protect its rights under the Convention.

So all that The Gambia asks, is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity and brutality that have shocked and continue to shock our collective conscience, to stop this genocide of its own people!
All that we seek from you is that you tell Myanmar to give the Rohingya a chance to live a decent and dignified life in freedom and peace; to give Rohingya children the opportunity to laugh and play football or Boli Kela in their parks like our own children do; the opportunity to go to school and dream; dream of becoming lawyers or doctors or scientists; opportunities that we have all been given as children; opportunities that we all want for our own children; tell Myanmar to just give these Rohingya children a chance in life! It is what we ask of you because when you speak, the world listens. We ask for nothing more!
Mr. President, Honourable Judges. It remains for me to thank you immensely for responding to our request for provisional measures by scheduling these hearings so promptly, and for allowing me to address you. With your permission, I would ask that you call Professor Akhavan to the podium. Thank you.



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