In Depth

Why everyone’s talking about Amal Clooney

Human rights lawyer is hired by the Maldives in genocide case against Myanmar

The Maldives has hired British-Lebanese lawyer Amal Clooney to represent its case against Myanmar in an ongoing trial at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague.

Clooney, the wife of Hollywood actor and producer George Clooney, was brought on board by the tiny island nation as part of the country’s move to formally join The Gambia in filing a case of genocide against Myanmar over its treatment of Rohingya Muslims.

The case, primarily focused on the brutal 2017 crackdown on the Muslim minority by the Myanmar military, has seen Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi appear at the court in the Netherlands to defend her country’s actions.

In a statement this week, Clooney said she was “delighted to have been asked to represent the Maldives before the ICJ”, adding: “Accountability for genocide in Myanmar is long overdue and I look forward to working on this important effort to seek judicial remedies for Rohingya survivors.”

What is happening in The Hague?

The Rohingya, described by the UN as “the most persecuted minority in the world”, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in 2012, Al Jazeera reports.

In 2017, Myanmar forces launched a crackdown on the Rohingya, burning down villages and committing massacres and mass rapes, according to international observers. This has pushed the number of people fleeing the violence to more than 1.2 million and has subsequently caused a major refugee crisis in neighbouring Bangladesh.

Since 25 August 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya have been killed by Myanmar’s security forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

In November 2019, the West African nation of The Gambia brought an official complaint against Myanmar at the ICJ on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), claiming that Myanmar has committed “genocidal acts” that “were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group” through mass murder, rape and destruction of communities.

Suu Kyi, who defended the Myanmar regime in front of the ICJ, criticised “the ways in which unsubstantiated narratives are relied upon by the UN and non-governmental organisations”, adding that the stories of the genocide had been exaggerated by refugees.

But in a stinging rejection of her comments, the ICJ imposed emergency “provisional measures” on Myanmar in January, instructing it to prevent genocidal violence against its Rohingya minority and preserve any evidence of past crimes. However, a full case over the genocide charges could take years.

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What is Clooney’s role?

This week, the Maldives, a fellow member of the OIC, said it will formally join The Gambia in challenging Myanmar’s apparent genocide, and stated that it will file a written declaration of intervention at the ICJ supporting the Rohingya.

“In line with the decision taken at the 14th Islamic Summit of the [OIC], the Republic of Maldives intends to extend its support for the efforts to seek accountability for the acts of genocide committed against the Rohingya people,” foreign minister Abdulla Shahid said on Wednesday.

As part of its bid to join the legal challenge, the Maldivian government has hired Clooney, a lawyer at Doughty Street Chambers in London specialising in international law and human rights, who has a history of representing high-profile figures in the Maldives.

In April 2015, Clooney was hired to lead the defence of Mohamed Nasheed, a former president of the Maldives, after he was controversially sentenced to 13 years in jail in March of the same year, having been found guilty of ordering the arrest of a judge while in office in a case described by Amnesty International as a “travesty of justice”.

Clooney helped Nasheed, the first democratically elected leader in Maldivian history, secure asylum in the UK in 2016, and he was subsequently cleared of all wrongdoing in 2018 following the fall of right-wing President Abdulla Yameen, who had organised the arrest and trial of Nasheed.

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