Atrocity Alert No. 180: Myanmar (Burma), Syria and Democratic Republic of the Congo
Historic genocide case filed against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice
On Monday, 11 November, the Republic of The Gambia filed a lawsuit before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) alleging that the Republic of the Union of Myanmar has violated its obligations under the Genocide Convention “for its genocidal actions against the Rohingya people.” This is only the third time in history that a state has filed a case at the ICJ regarding the application of the Genocide Convention. The Gambia’s Attorney General and Minister of Justice, Abubaccar M. Tambadou, speaking in The Hague, said that, “it is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right under our own eyes.”
The lawsuit, which The Gambia filed on behalf of the 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, asks the ICJ “to adjudge and declare Myanmar to have violated its obligations under the Genocide Convention, to order Myanmar to cease and desist from its genocidal acts, to punish the perpetrators, and to provide reparations for the Rohingya victims.” It also asks the Court to impose provisional measures, including “ordering Myanmar to stop all of its genocidal conduct immediately.”
All 152 states that are parties to the Genocide Convention have an obligation to prevent and punish the crime of genocide, and, by extension, not to commit it. The Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar (FFM) concluded that Myanmar’s military has committed acts of genocide against the Rohingya minority in Rakhine State and that the government breached its obligations under the Genocide Convention. In its final September 2019 report, the FFM also determined that all the risk factors for genocide remain present in Myanmar.
In a joint press release on Monday the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect and the Global Justice Center commented that, “The Gambia refused to stay silent in the face of genocide and today took an important step in filing a case against Myanmar at the ICJ.” The Global Justice Center and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect have met with Minister Tambadou and other senior Gambian officials a number of times to discuss efforts to hold Myanmar accountable for genocide. During an event on the margins of the UN General Assembly hosted by the Global Centre and the government of Bangladesh on 25 September, Minister Tambadou publicly announced the historic decision to pursue this case.
All other parties to the Genocide Convention should meaningfully support The Gambia’s initiative, including by potentially joining the case against Myanmar. Meanwhile, the UN Security Council needs to resuscitate its work on Myanmar and immediately adopt a resolution imposing an arms embargo and targeted sanctions on those responsible for genocide. The Council should also be prepared to ensure compliance with any provisional measures issued by the ICJ.
At least 28,000 children trapped in detention camps in Syria
As the self-declared caliphate of the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) collapsed, tens of thousands of men, women and children living in ISIL-controlled areas of Syria were captured or detained. More than 100,000 people now live in squalid detention camps in northeast Syria – approximately 28,000 of whom are children from more than 60 different countries. More than half of the children are under the age of five.
Thousands of the children are from states that refuse to repatriate them or take protective action. Meanwhile, the already perilous humanitarian and human rights situation within the camps has significantly worsened following Turkey’s invasion of northeast Syria on 9 October.
On 11 November a Dutch court ruled that the government of the Netherlands has an obligation to meaningfully attempt to repatriate 56 young children currently trapped in detention camps in northeast Syria. The court emphasized that the children “are not responsible for the actions of their parents, however serious they are.”
Similarly, the UN Special Representatives on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Children in Armed Conflict, and Violence Against Children and the Special Rapporteur on the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms while Countering Terrorism issued a joint statement on 11 November on the situation facing women and children detained in northern Syria and Iraq. The Special Representatives and Rapporteur asserted that, “States should take all necessary measures to avoid the stigmatization of children, including those who were born of conflict-related sexual violence or children who were recruited or used by parties to conflict. States must also prevent discrimination of these children based on nationality, birth and immigration status, and should take all measures to prevent statelessness.”
Collectively punishing the children of ISIL fighters for the alleged crimes of their parents violates international law. All states should take immediate steps, in line with the Convention on the Rights of the Child and its Optional Protocols, to ensure the safety and protection of children currently detained in camps in northeast Syria. Where possible, working with UN agencies, children should be expeditiously repatriated to their country of origin.
ICC sentences warlord Bosco Ntaganda for Congo atrocities
On Thursday, 7 November, the International Criminal Court (ICC) sentenced former rebel leader Bosco Ntaganda to 30 years imprisonment for war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetrated in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). This is the longest sentence ever imposed by the ICC.
During July the Court found Ntaganda guilty of 13 counts of war crimes and 5 counts of crimes against humanity committed in Ituri province between 2002-2003. Ntaganda perpetrated these crimes while directing operations for the Forces Patriotiques pour la Libération du Congo, the military wing of the Union des Patriotes Congolais.
The ICC found Ntaganda to be a direct perpetrator of murder and persecution, while also being responsible for atrocities committed by forces under his command, including ordering attacks against civilian populations, forcibly displacing civilians, and using child soldiers. The trial also marked the first time the ICC has held a commander responsible for rape and sexual slavery perpetrated by his troops against members of their own forces.
Following the sentencing the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisers on Children and Armed Conflict, the Prevention of Genocide, and the Responsibility to Protect issued a joint statement welcoming the ICC’s decision. The three Special Advisers noted that, “at a time when we are witnessing a dangerous disregard for fundamental rights and international legal norms,” the sentence sends a strong message that “sooner or later those who commit, incite or condone atrocities will be held accountable.”
While the Ntaganda verdict is a victory for his many victims and for international justice, the trial is also a reminder that instability and atrocities continue to plague the DRC. Hundreds of thousands of people in the east of the country have been displaced by inter-communal violence and militia attacks over the past six months, contributing to the more than 4.8 million people who are currently internally displaced in the DRC. The government must hold all perpetrators of atrocities accountable and end the climate of impunity that enabled men like Bosco Ntaganda to evade justice for so long.