It's about courage, not size
Emeritus Professor Tan Sri Dato' Dzulkifli Abdul Razak
Opinion - New Straits Times
February 1, 2020
MOST are familiar with the saying — size does not matter! I am thinking of a nation called The Gambia.
Why The Gambia?
I can almost hear that.
Where is it?
Yes, where indeed?
If you say Africa, you are right. In fact, in West Africa entirely surrounded by Senegal except for its western coastline along the Atlantic Ocean.
With a population of about two million, it was founded in 1965 as the Republic of Gambia.
Coincidentally, it is the smallest country in the African continent. But that matters not.
Because The Gambia launched the first ever international legal attempt to hold Myanmar accountable at the United Nations International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.
It accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention. Last Nov 11, The Gambia boldly filed an application to ICJ to bring Myanmar to justice for the alleged mass killings of the Rohingya in 2017.
What is even more amazing, is that The Gambia acted on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation — a group that is 57-country strong, which has some of the richest countries that are much larger and more populous than The Gambia.
It showed courage and leadership to speak up on a humanitarian tragedy.
Looking from that lens, the whole world has been put to shame for not being gutsy enough to stand up and be counted over an issue that is clearly unjust.
After all, the United Nations has, on record, described it as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
The man who brought Aung San Suu Kyi to The Hague to accuse her country’s military of committing genocide was Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou.
He may not be a Nobel Peace Laureate, but he had served as the prosecutor at the UN’s Rwanda tribunal no less.
Tambadou was responsi-
ble for the prosecution of Rwanda’s former army chief of staff, Major General Augustin Bizimungu. Tambadou understood better what peace meant, perhaps more than the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner, once the darling of the West for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights.
How she has fallen from grace — “from a peace icon to an international pariah” as she is referred to by several in the western media.
It was ironic how at The Hague she allegedly “defended the very people who had previously imprisoned her, the military”.
The 47-year-old Tambadou said doing nothing was not an option.
He had likened the situation in Myanmar to the 1994 genocide in Rwanda that claimed the lives of some 800,000 people.
“This is about our humanity,” he was quoted as saying.
Last month, the ICJ ordered Myanmar to halt all atrocities and take measures to protect the Rohingya community from genocide.
The ICJ had sided with Tambadou, which made him “very, very pleased” as reported by BBC’s Focus on Africa.
More significantly, Tambadou remarked: “We want to lead by example.
“The case at ICJ is The Gambia showing the world you don’t have to have military or econo-
mic power to denounce oppressions.
“Legal obligation and moral responsibility exist for all states, big or small.”
How profound is this — the smallest country in Africa, but with a big, courageous heart.
Moving forward, as Myanmar remains defiant, we need more people the likes of Tambadou.
In the words of Simon Adams, head of the human rights organisation, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect: “There was only one man (Tambadou) with the courage, skills and humanity to try to hold Myanmar accountable for the alleged atrocities.
Some were afraid of retaliation from the Chinese. Others said it wasn’t a good time; it was too politically risky. (But) I was impressed by his fearlessness.
He realised what would be coming pressure-wise but he was developing a strategy to deal with it.”
This gutsy approach is rarely seen today. It may be why humanity is made to suffer continuously. Indeed, the fight for justice is far from over and we have Abubacarr Tambadou to thank for leading by example.
It is a matter of courage, not size.
The writer, an NST columnist for more than 20 years, is International Islamic University Malaysia rector
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the New Straits Times