Gambia has filed a case accusing Myanmar for systematic displacement, killing and widespread sexual assault on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.
Myanmar has repeatedly been blamed for systematic ethnic cleansing, but only today has it been formally accused in an international court of acts of genocide, reports CBC.
The case filed at the International Court of Justice at The Hague is the first attempt to work around international inertia around Myanmar's actions on its own soil, and push through the legal and political obstacles that have so far frustrated calls to exact justice for the hundreds of thousands of victims.
Gambia, a small West African country with a largely Muslim population, was chosen to file the suit on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation, which is also paying for the team of top international law experts handling the case.
"We have just submitted our application to the ICJ under the Genocide Convention," Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou told a news conference in The Hague, where the court is based.
"The aim is to get Myanmar to account for its action against its own people: the Rohingya. It is a shame for our generation that we do nothing while genocide is unfolding right under our own eyes," he added.
Since violence erupted in Rakhine state in August 2017, several investigations concluded that Myanmar security forces were behind the atrocities that razed dozens of Rohingya villages, displaced more than 700,000 civilians, and killed countless others.
In August 2018, a UN fact-finding mission declared those acts a campaign of genocide, and called for the prosecution of the military commander and generals in charge for genocide and war crimes.
Still there seemed to be little global appetite for legal action.
Last year, Canada became the first country to call the violence an act of genocide, after Parliament voted unanimously to do so. A campaign followed by senators and dozens of human rights groups — as well as a motion in the Senate — urging the Canadian government to take the genocide accusation to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which arbitrates disputes between states.
But Canada has called on the UN Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court instead. The Council is the only avenue for putting the matter before the ICC because Myanmar is not a state party to the statues that created the court, which means it's outside of its jurisdiction.
However, a reference by the Security Council was highly unlikely, at minimum due to China's opposition.