By News Desk
Nobel laureate Aung Suu Kyi, who is also Myanmar’s de facto ruler, on Wednesday defended her country against accusations of the Rohingya genocide.
Myanmar is accused of violating its obligations under the Genocide Convention in its so-called “clearance military operations” against the Rohingya.
She took a stand at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague against a case filed by The Gambia, a small West African country, alleging it violated the 1948 Genocide Convention.
After the court started the proceedings yesterday, the Gambia asked the court to prevent Myanmar from further killings of Rohingya, stressing that the country’s population was controlled by orders, security and checkpoints.
However, she has been criticized for remaining silent on accusations of war crimes committed against ethnic Rohingya in her country by the army.
“The Gambia has placed an incomplete and misleading picture of the factual situation in Rakhine state. Surely under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis,” Aung San Suu Kyi stressed.
“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of the state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers, who are accused of wrongdoing? Although the focus here is on members of the military, I can assure you that appropriate action will taken on civilian offenders, in line with due process.”
She said the situation in Rakhine state was “complex” as she acknowleged the “suffering” of the Rohingya minority, many of whom have fled to safety in neighbouring Bangladesh.
The Myanmar army may have used “disproportionate force”, she said, but that did not prove it was trying to wipe out the minority group.
She repeatedly termed a bloody crackdown in 2017 as an “internal conflict”, saying Myanmar’s military were responding to attacks by Rohingya “militants” and armed local groups, such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
Once a human rights icon who fought against the powerful military for democracy, Aung San Suu Kyi has shocked critics and galvanised supporters at home by travelling to The Hague to head her country’s delegation.
“We [are] witnessing one of history’s shocking moments: Suu Kyi denying and dismissing credible findings of the genocide of Rohingyas by Myanmar,” Maung Zarni, a UK-based scholar, activist and member of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority who hails from a military family. “As a Burmese I am so ashamed and outraged at the same time by what I am about to hear – lies and deceptions.”
Aung San Suu Kyi listened impassively on Tuesday as lawyers for The Gambia detailed graphic testimony of suffering of Rohingya at the hands of Myanmar’s security forces, including gang rape, torture, and murder.
“It was very important to see her have to sit inches away from people who were describing – in really painfully excruciating detail – all the horrible crimes of the Burmese military that happened on her watch,” Brad Adams, of New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW), told news men.
The ICJ judges are hearing the first phase of the case until on Thursday after the applicant requested 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 that it is every country’s duty under the 1948 Convention to prevent a genocide from taking place. It has political support from the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), as well as several Western nations including Canada and the Netherlands.