“The genocidal acts committed during the operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole, in part by the use of mass murder, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses.”
How African Muslims Can Help Support Rohingya Refugees
In 2017, about 750,000 Rohingya Muslims fled violent persecution from Myanmar into Bangladesh. This was following mass rape, murder, and destruction of property. The United Nations human rights commissioner described the military operation that led to the attack as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
During a visit to a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh, The Gambian Minister of Justice, Abubacarr Tambadou, said “I saw genocide written all over these stories”, in a Reuters exclusive interview.
In the aftermath of his visit to Bangladesh, The Gambian Minister of Justice, who was an ex-official of the International Court of Justice (ICJ), filed a suit on behalf of his home country to challenge Myanmar’s persecution of Rohingyas Muslims.
In this suit, filed at the principal judicial arm of the United Nations, The Gambia alleges: “from around 2016, the Myanmar military (the Tatmadaw) and other Myanmar security forces began widespread and systematic ‘clearance operation’ – the term Myanmar itself uses – against the Rohingya group. The genocidal acts committed during the operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole, in part by the use of mass murder, rape, and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses.”
It added that “from August 2017 onwards such genocidal acts continued with Myanmar’s resumption of ‘clearance operation’ on a more massive and wider geographical scale.”
In December 2019, this case was heard at the International Court of Justice as The Gambia’s Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou led the delegation. During the public hearing, following the formal complaint to the ICJ, Myanmar’s leader, Aung Sun Kyi, rejected all the accounts of genocide.
Despite the denial, the ICJ ruled that the Rohingya issue remains a serious act of genocide.
What is crucial here is not the verdict of the United Nations court alone, but the lessons a tiny African country has taught the world. The Gambia, with not up to 3 million in population, is the smallest country in Africa and one of the smallest in the world, yet it has written its name in gold in the book of history. Posterity will judge that a country still recuperating from Yahya Jammeh’s days of dictatorship took a giant step that oil-rich Muslim countries couldn’t.
Another pertinent lesson for African Muslims is that one must not have it all before they can give. Similarly, distance couldn’t even weaken The Gambia’s resolve to challenge oppression that is being meted against the downtrodden people of Rohingya. Despite being 7,000 miles away from Myanmar, by making a case for Rohingya Muslims at the ICJ, The Gambia has left a footprint worthy of emulation for other African Muslims.
Another pertinent lesson that should be drawn from The Gambia’s intervention is how Islam sees the oppressed and what one, as a Muslim, is expected to do in such a situation. The Gambia took the courage of standing for a people perceived as oppressed, despite the long-distance and its meager population.
After acknowledging The Gambia’s role, Shola Lawal affirms that “what is without a doubt, however, is that a tiny country can be a loud voice on human rights,” in an opinion piece in African Arguments.
Now, The Gambia has opened a door for anyone willing to help the Rohingya Muslims who are persecuted for professing Islam as a religion. More countries and individuals need to do more in coming to the aid of these people. There is an urgent need for African Muslims to alleviate the plight of the Rohingyas refugees spread across various camps in Bangladesh by crowdfunding for them.
Muslims from Africa can learn ample lessons from The Gambia. One does not need to be wealthy or even powerful to intervene in this humanitarian crisis. By raising funds for the victims of this genocide perpetrated by Myanmar, people of other faith will understand that the brotherhood of Islam transcends all boundaries. Also, this will further save the more than 800,000 Rohingyas refugees from disease outbreaks like the COVID-19, lack of protection, lack of access to formal education, and malnutrition. This is a good example of how little drops make mighty oceans.