Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi has denied that the military acted with “genocidal intent” against the Rohingya in late 2017 in her controversial appearance at the United Nation’s top criminal court in The Hague.
In traditional Burmese dress with flowers in her hair, the former human rights champion admitted that the Tatmadaw or armed forces may have used “disproportionate force” but said this did not constitute an attempt to wipe out the Muslim group.
The hearing at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) has been initiated by the Gambia over the military crackdown in Rakhine State that caused around 740,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
The Gambia has requested “provisional measures”, the equivalent of a restraining order, be imposed against Myanmar to protect the Rohingya until the full case is heard.
The West African country’s lead lawyer, Paul Reichler, said Myanmar had not even tried during the hearings to deny most of the accusations of extreme violence.
Pledges that Myanmar was taking action to prosecute troops accused of wrongdoing were incredible, he told the panel of 17 judges.
“How can anyone possibly expect the Tatmadaw to hold itself accountable for genocidal acts against the Rohingya, when six of its top generals, including the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, have all been accused of genocide by the UN fact-finding mission and recommended for criminal prosecution?” Reichler said.
The ICJ has no enforcement powers, but its rulings are final and carry considerable international weight.
Suu Kyi claimed the Gambian charges created a “misleading and incomplete picture of the situation” in Rakhine, claiming the issue dated back several centuries. This instantly undermines the popular term for the Rohingya as “Bengalis”, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
A UN report last year detailed how mothers were gang-raped in front of their children and teenage girls and pregnant women raped with sticks and knives. The UN said estimates of 10,000 dead were “conservative”.
Survivors detailed how soldiers and Buddhist civilians shot, stabbed and burned Rohingya before dumping them in mass graves. Containers of acid were used to dissolve the faces of the dead in an apparent attempt to hinder the identification of the corpses.
The ICJ proceedings have drawn far greater attention because of the unexpected, voluntary decision of Suu Kyi to defend the generals in her role as foreign affairs minister.
The Nobel Peace Laureate said domestic courts-martial were adequate to impose justice on members of the Tatmadaw who had broken the law.
“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers who are accused of wrongdoing?” she asked the court. With regrettable exceptions, Suu Kyi said the soldiers were using reasonable means to counter a “rebellion”.
“Please bear in mind this complex situation and the challenge to sovereignty and security in our country when you are assessing the intent of those who attempted to deal with the rebellion. Surely, under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.”
State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi addresses the Hague tribunal. Picture credit: YouTube