THE HAGUE (Reuters)
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, will lead Myanmar’s defense at the World Court this afternoon, a day after the former democracy icon was urged to “stop the genocide” against Rohingya Muslims.
The small African state of Gambia has taken Myanmar to court over a bloody 2017 military crackdown in which thousands of people were killed and around 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi shocked critics and galvanized supporters at home by traveling to The Hague to head her country’s delegation. Her office said she was going to “defend the national interest”.
Suu Kyi listened impassively on Tuesday as lawyers for Gambia detailed graphic testimony of suffering of Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar military.
In three days of hearings this week, judges are hearing the first phase of the case: Gambia’s request for “provisional measures” – the equivalent of a restraining order against Myanmar to protect the Rohingya population until the case is heard in full.
Although Suu Kyi has not revealed details of her government’s defense, she and her legal team are expected to argue that the court lacks jurisdiction, and that no genocide has taken place in Myanmar.
Gambia has argued it is every country’s duty under the 1948 Convention to prevent a genocide from taking place. Gambia has political support from the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, as well as several Western nations including Canada and the Netherlands.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after the military launched a crackdown in the country’s western Rakhine state in August 2017. Most now live in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.
Myanmar argues the military “clearance operations” in Rakhine were a justifiable response to acts of terrorism, and that its soldiers have acted appropriately.
The legal threshold for a finding of genocide is high. Just three cases have been recognized under international law since World War Two: In Cambodia in the late 1970s; In Rwanda in 1994; and at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.