The Gambia is taking its international human rights crusade against Myanmar to the United States with a legal push to force Facebook to turn over the contents of accounts linked to the persecution of Myanmar’s Rohingya.
Lawyers for the tiny west African nation this week asked the US District Court for the District of Columbia to order the social media giant to turn over “all documents and communications” produced by Burmese officials with millions of followers on Facebook and Instagram as it presses its case that Myanmar committed genocide. The Gambia wants access to the accounts of more than a dozen military figures to help build its case at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. These include the accounts of Commander-in-Chief Ming Aung Hlaing and those of the military’s Myawady television network and the Myanmar Police Force.
“Statements on social media, including Facebook, made by officials and representatives of Myanmar hostile to the Rohingya, or encouraging violence against them … may constitute evidence of genocidal intent necessary to support a finding of responsibility for genocide,” The Gambia told the court in the June 8 filing.
Facebook said it was taking the request under consideration. The company has closed down hundreds of Burmese accounts in recent years amid accusations that they promote violence against the Buddhist country’s Muslim minority, including those of Hlaing and other military officials that The Gambia is now asking for access to.
“The Gambia, like many other people, sees that Facebook played a crucial role in the genocide,” said Simon Adams, executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect in New York. “It became a platform for hate speech, it became a platform for senior military figures to incite essentially violence against the Rohingya, and I think it helped create a climate in Myanmar that was conducive to genocide — keeping in mind that Facebook is actually the main way that people in Myanmar access the internet.”
Adams told Foreign Lobby Report that Facebook had acknowledged that the posts constituted hate speech when it took them down.
“I think this is very significant,” he said. “I can’t think of another precedent like this. And I think it will provide evidence of genocide which will be very important in the case at The Hague.”
The Gambia has taken a lead role in pursuing justice for the displaced Muslim minority by suing Myanmar last fall at the International Court of Justice. Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou, the man leading the charge, told the BBC he was inspired to take action to prevent a repeat of Rwanda’s Tutsi massacre two and a half decades earlier.
Tambadou scored a major victory last year when the international court ruled that Myanmar must implement emergency measures to protect the Rohingya against violence and preserve evidence of possible genocide. Myanmar, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, argued that there was no systemic planned attack on the Rohingya when violence flared up in 2017 but that the armed services were responding to an armed insurgency.
“The Gambia, like many other people, sees that Facebook played a crucial role in the genocide. It became a platform for hate speech, it became a platform for senior military figures to incite essentially violence against the Rohingya, and I think it helped create a climate in Myanmar that was conducive to genocide.”Simon Adams, Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect
The June 8 application to the court was filed by lawyers from Miller and Chevalier. Last month, lawyers for Foley Hoag asked the same court for similar discovery from Twitter but withdrew the motion on May 18.