LONDON – Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi denied her country committed genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslims, telling the United Nations’ top court Wednesday the mass exodus of the minority stemmed from “an internal conflict started by coordinated and comprehensive armed attacks.”
She told the International Court of Justice in The Hague that “Myanmar’s defense services responded” to the attacks, creating an armed conflict “that led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims.”
Appearing before the court in her official role as Myanmar’s foreign minister, the Nobel Peace laureate reiterated her government’s claim that the military was targeting Rohingya militants who had attacked security posts in western Rakhine state in August 2017.
The case against Myanmar was brought to the IJC by the small West African nation Gambia on behalf of the 57-member Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Lawyers for Gambia recounted numerous acts of atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military during the crackdown during Tuesday’s opening session.
Aung San Suu Kyi called the allegations made by Gambia “misleading” during her opening statement.
Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou told reporters Tuesday he wants the IJC to order special measures to protect the Rohingyas until the genocide case is heard in full.
“We are signatories to the Genocide Convention like any other state. It shows that you don’t have to have military power or economic power to stand for justice,” Tambadou said.
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy stand against Myanmar’s then-ruling military junta, which placed her under house arrest for 15 years until finally freeing her in 2010. But her defense of the military’s actions against the Rohingyas has wrecked her reputation among the international community as an icon of democracy and human rights.
The Rohingya were excluded from a 1982 citizenship law that bases full legal status through membership in a government-recognized indigenous group. The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, effectively rendering the ethnic group stateless.
A ruling from the court to approve measures to protect the Rohingya is expected within weeks. A final ruling on the accusation of genocide could take several years.