On June 8, 2020, The Gambia filed an application for discovery with the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The application asks the Court to compel Facebook to provide information related to the personal Facebook accounts of Myanmar officials. The information that The Gambia seeks is to be used in an action brought by The Gambia against Myanmar in the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, The Netherlands.
In November 2019, The Gambia initiated proceedings against Myanmar at the ICJ. The application filed by The Gambia alleges that the Government of Myanmar has has been involved in atrocities against the Rohingya Muslims, including “killing, causing serious bodily and mental harm, inflicting conditions that are calculated to bring about physical destruction, imposing measures to prevent births, and forcible transfers, are genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part” in violation of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the Genocide Convention).
The Gambia’s application alleged that: “from around October 2016, the Myanmar military (the “Tatmadaw”) and other Myanmar security forces began widespread and systematic “clearance operations” – the term that Myanmar itself uses – against the Rohingya group. The genocidal acts committed during these operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or 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. From August 2017 onwards, such genocidal acts continued with Myanmar’s resumption of “clearance operations” on a more massive and wider geographical scale.”
The recent application for discovery against Facebook indicates that “statements on social media, including Facebook, made by officials and representatives of Myanmar hostile to the Rohingya, or encouraging violence against them, including but not limited to statements made by senior military officers directed at rank-and-file soldiers or armed civilians who carried out attacks against the Rohingya, may constitute evidence of genocidal intent necessary o support a finding of responsibility for genocide.”
It further emphasizes that “Facebook is a dominant platform in Myanmar of disseminating anti-Rohingya hate speech and incitement to violence. Indeed, an independent report commissioned by Facebook found that the platform “is being used [in Myanmar] by bad actors to spread hate speech, incite violence, and coordinate harm.” Moreover, the UN Fact-Finding Mission concluded that such hate speech is directed against the Rohingya and is pervasive in Myanmar, and that “messages portraying Rohingya as violent, dishonest, anti-Bamar, anti-Buddhist, illegal immigrants and/or terrorists… are particularly widespread on social media.” The application further states that “Using the Facebook platform, the military has circulated discriminatory posts to generate fear, mistrust and hatred against Rohingya Muslims.”
Facebook has now banned Senior-General Min Aung Hlaing, the Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, and 19 other military individuals and organizations from its platform. The content that these individuals posted has now been removed. However, Facebook has preserved the content of these pages and The Gambia argues that it “should be available to properly constituted international and national judicial authorities for accountability purposes.”
As the case proceeds, the world will be watching to see whether the social media giant, which is in possession of evidence that could help to clarify the genocidal intent of the atrocities, will now step up and help justice being done.