People rally in support of Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi in Bago on Dec. 9 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 de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi faces her date with destiny today when she appears at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in the Netherlands to defend her country in a genocide case.
A Christian prayer service and rallies in several cities across Myanmar were held as she left for The Hague to make an unprecedented appearance by a political leader in a legal case before the UN’s highest court.
The Gambia, a Muslim West African country, filed a lawsuit with the ICJ on behalf of the 57-nation Organization of Islamic Cooperation alleging that Myanmar breached the 1948 Genocide Convention in its treatment of Rohingya Muslims.
A UN fact-finding mission has reported that “genocidal acts” carried out in Rakhine state by Myanmar’s military in 2017 resulted in more than 740,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh.
In three days of hearings from Dec.10-12, the Gambia will ask 16 UN judges for “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya before the case is heard in full.
Hundreds of Christians joined a Dec. 7 prayer service at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial city, to pray for the unity of the nation and for a safe trip for Suu Kyi.
Thousands of people have taken part in rallies to support Suu Kyi in cities such as Yangon, Naypyitaw, Bago, Taungngu and Sagaing, while more are due to be held today in both Myanmar and the Netherlands.
Aung Ko, Myanmar’s religious affairs and culture minister, attended the cathedral service organized by the Myanmar Council of Churches.
Unity and peace
Rev. Kyaw Nyunt, associate pastor of Judson Church in Yangon, said the prayer service aimed for unity and peace as Myanmar faced enormous pressure over the Rakhine crisis.
He said most people were supporting Suu Kyi in her defense of the national interest. “As Suu Kyi herself goes to defend Myanmar at the ICJ, it might be an opportunity to explain the reality of the country’s situation to the international community,” Rev. Kyaw Nyunt told ucanews.
First Lady Cho Cho, the wife of President U Win Myint, led a Buddhist ritual at the Eternal Peace Pagoda in Naypyitaw on Dec. 8 to support Suu Kyi.
“The ceremony aimed for the success, protection and safety of the state counselor in her defense at the ICJ,” said state-run Global New Light of Myanmar newspaper.
While the ICJ trial looms over the country, Fortify Rights claimed that Myanmar continues to violate the Genocide Convention.
New evidence released by the rights group on Dec. 7 accused authorities of using Rohingya for slave labor, including child slave labor, systematically restricting freedom of movement, and denying the existence of Rohingya and their right to a nationality.
Fortify Rights chief executive Matthew Smith said Rohingya in Myanmar remain at grave risk.
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.
Several world leaders, rights groups, international observers and Rohingya survivors claim that Myanmar has carried out systematic, violent and sometimes sexual and deadly abuse against thousands of Rohingya, including children, while denying members of the ethnic minority citizenship rights.
Suu Kyi, a former Nobel Peace Prize winner, has been criticized for remaining mostly silent on accusations of violence against Rohingya.