Myanmar’s state counsellor, Aung San Suu Kyi, will lead a delegation to the UN’s International Court of Justice (ICJ) to defend a case accusing the quasi-democratic government of genocide against its Rohingya community.
Suu Kyi, who will appear in her capacity as foreign minister, has been accused of being an apologist for Myanmar’s generals, despite suffering years of house arrest under military rule.
Military spokesman Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun said the decision was made after the army held consultations with the government. “We, the military, will fully co-operate with the government and we will follow the instruction of the government,” he told the media.
The Gambia is due to open its case at the ICJ next month on behalf of the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
The complaint accuses Myanmar of breaching the 1948 UN Genocide Convention through its military crackdown on the overwhelmingly Muslim minority in 2017 in Rakhine State.
Suu Kyi has little direct control over military activity in Rakhine State as the generals control the ministries of border security and defence. The military also controls the legal system under the Home Affairs Ministry, meaning the generals decide whether to carry out prosecutions for civilian deaths.
In the opening hearings, The Gambia is expected to ask the ICJ to make an emergency injunction to protect the community, pending a decision on whether to address the wider case.
Suu Kyi will lead delegates to The Hague to “defend the national interest of Myanmar”, the Office of the State Counsellor said.
The government had retained prominent international lawyers, her office added.
Myanmar insists its domestic investigation committees are adequate to investigate allegations of abuse in Rakhine State.
Around 740,000 Rohingya were driven across the border into Bangladesh after the 2017 military crackdown. UN investigators concluded that the scale of state violence amounted to genocide.
The case is the first international legal attempt to bring Myanmar to justice over the crisis. It is a rare example of a nation – the tiny, largely Muslim West African state – suing another over an issue to which it is not directly involved.
The ICJ was set up in 1946 after the Second World War to adjudicate in disputes between UN member states.
Latin American human rights groups have submitted a lawsuit in Argentina under “universal jurisdiction”, a legal principle that deems some crimes so serious that they can be tried internationally.
The International Criminal Court — another Hague-based legal body established in 2002 to investigate war crimes — last week authorised its chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation into the persecution of the Rohingya.
Myanmar is not a signatory to the ICC and has rejected its authority.
Rakhine State state is grindingly poor for all communities. Picture credit: Asean Economist