THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday rejected accusations of genocide committed against her country’s Muslim Rohingya minority as “incomplete and misleading”, and said the case should not be heard by the U.N.’s highest court.
Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on the second day of hearings in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman
The Nobel Peace laureate, speaking during three days of hearings at the International Court of Justice, challenged allegations in a lawsuit brought by Gambia last month accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Suu Kyi, once feted in the West as a heroine of democracy, spoke for about 30 minutes at the courtroom in The Hague in defense of the actions of the Myanmar military that for years had kept her under house arrest.
She said a military-led “clearance operation” in western Rakhine State in August 2017 was a counterterrorism response to coordinated Rohingya militant attacks against dozens of police stations.
“Gambia has placed an incomplete and misleading picture of the factual situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar,” she said as she opened Myanmar’s defense.
While Suu Kyi conceded that disproportionate military force may have been used and civilians killed, she said the acts did not constitute genocide.
“Surely, under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis,” she told the panel of 17 judges. “Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers that are accused of wrong doing?”
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh after the military launched its crackdown.
Last year, Myanmar’s military announced that seven soldiers involved in a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in the village of Inn Din in September 2017 had been sentenced to “10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area”.
They were the only security personnel the military has said it has punished over the 2017 operation. They were granted early release after less than a year in the prison.
Late last month, the military said it had begun a court martial of an unspecified number of soldiers over events in another village, Gu Dar Pyin, the site of a second alleged massacre of 10 Rohingya.
HIGH LEGAL BAR
Suu Kyi had listened impassively on Tuesday as lawyers for Gambia detailed graphic testimony of suffering of Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar security forces.
A photograph of Suu Kyi with three smiling generals who are also Myanmar government ministers – Lieutenant General Ye Aung, Lieutenant General Sein Win and Lieutenant General Kyaw Swe – was shown in the courtroom by Gambia’s legal team as evidence of what they said were her close ties to the military.
It brought widespread reaction from her supporters who denounced it on social media as an attempt to mock her.
Suu Kyi came to power in 2016 following a landslide election win, but a military-drafted constitution means she must share power with the army that ruled the Southeast Asian nation for decades.
In three days of hearings this week, judges are hearing the first phase of the case: Gambia’s request for “provisional measures” – the equivalent of a restraining order against Myanmar to protect the Rohingya population until the case is heard in full.
Gambia has argued it is every country’s duty under the convention to prevent a genocide from taking place. Gambia has political support from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Canada and the Netherlands.
The case is being followed closely across Rakhine state’s border in Bangladesh, where more than 1 million Rohingya are now crowded into the world’s biggest refugee camp.
On Wednesday, some refugees shouted “liar, liar, shame!”, as they watched Suu Kyi defend Myanmar’s case on television.
“She is a liar. A great liar, shame on her,” said Abdur Rahim, 52, while watching a live telecast of her testimony on a local news channel at a community center in the Kutupalong camp.
The legal threshold for a finding of genocide is high. Just three cases have been recognized under international law since World War Two: In Cambodia in the late 1970s; In Rwanda in 1994; and at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.
Although a United Nations fact-finding mission found that “the gravest crimes under international law” had been committed in Myanmar and called for genocide trials, no court has weighed evidence and established a genocide in Myanmar.
Reporting by Toby Sterling, Shoon Naing, and Stephanie van den Berg in The Hague; Additional reporting by Ruma Paul in Cox’s Bazar; Writingy by Anthony Deutsch; Editing by Janet Lawrence and Alex Richardson