Artwork portraying Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is seen at a support rally in Naypyidaw on Dec. 7 ahead of her appearance at the International Court of Justice to defend the country against charges of genocide against Rohingya Muslims. (Photo: AFP)
Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended the genocide case against her country for its treatment of Rohingya Muslims as “incomplete and misleading.”
In a nearly 30-minute speech on the second day of a three-day hearing at the International Court of Justice on Dec.11, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate dismissed allegations in a lawsuit filed by The Gambia accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention during the 2017 crackdown against Rohingya.
Suu Kyi told the UN’s top court at The Hague in the Netherlands that the African country had placed an “incomplete and misleading picture of the factual situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar.”
The one-time democracy icon said that “genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis,” referring to Myanmar’s military operations in August 2017 in Rakhine.
The 74-year-old state counselor outlined decades of tensions between the Rohingya and Rakhine communities and justified the military’s response to attacks by Rohingya militants in the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh from Rakhine due to the bloody crackdown by Myanmar's military that started in August 2017 following border post attacks by ARSA.
A UN fact-finding mission found that the military committed four of the five acts constituting genocide against Rohingya. It said military chief Min Aung Hlaing and five other senior generals should be prosecuted for genocide and crimes against humanity.
Suu Kyi admitted the army might have used disproportionate force but said that did not prove it was trying to wipe out the minority group.
She said that “if war crimes have been committed, they will be prosecuted within our military justice system.”
Myanmar’s de facto leader, who was placed under house arrest by the country’s then military rulers for more than 20 years, is not on trial at the ICJ as it settles disputes between countries.
She asked: “Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers that are accused of wrongdoing?”
She added that “it would not be helpful for the international legal order if the impression takes hold that only resource-rich countries can conduct adequate domestic investigations and prosecutions.”
Myanmar has long denied accusations of genocide and most allegations of targeted military-led violence, claiming that its actions in 2017 were meant to protect the country against Rohingya militants.
Myanmar has rejected previous UN reports as untrue and didn’t allow UN investigators access to Rakhine.
George Graham, director of conflict and humanitarian advocacy at Save the Children, said Suu Kyi’s remarks fly in the face of all the evidence gathered by the UN and the testimony its own teams have heard from countless survivors.
Graham said Rohingya families have faced unimaginable horrors. Children and their parents have been systematically killed, maimed and raped.
“Yet the government of Myanmar has failed to punish those responsible. The world can no longer accept Myanmar’s tactics of delay and diversion. Justice delayed is justice denied,” Graham said.
Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, said the picture Suu Kyi had painted of an internal military conflict with no genocidal intent was completely false.
“Multiple independent agencies and experts, as well as Rohingya themselves, have documented mass killings, widespread rape and wholesale destruction of land and property intentionally inflicted on innocent civilians. The government has discriminated against the Rohingya for decades. This is genocide and it’s precisely what the Genocide Convention set out to prevent,” Radhakrishnan said.
Suu Kyi’s supporters continue to hold rallies in Myanmar cities and many have praised her defense at the ICJ while sharing her photos on Facebook.
Several Myanmar newspapers have covered the case with Suu Kyi’s photo on the front page with headlines such as “No genocide in northern Rakhine” and “Don’t aggravate Rakhine situation”.