Myanmar‘s leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended her country at the International Court of Justice against accusations of genocide, saying the situation there is “complex”.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate spoke for about 30 minutes at the courtroom in The Hague to defend the actions of Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya minority.
In a calm and measured tone, Ms Suu Kyi refused allegations that the army had killed civilians, participated in mass rape and burned villages in 2017. Myanmar’s accusers have claimed that there was a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide that caused more than 730,000 Rohingya to flee across the border to Bangladesh.
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She said the allegations stemmed from ”an internal armed conflict started by coordinated and comprehensive armed attacks” in western Rakhine state in August 2017, “to which Myanmar’s defence services responded”.
She added: “Tragically, this armed conflict led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims.”
Ms Suu Kyi told the UN’s highest court that Gambia, which launched legal proceedings against Myanmar on behalf of the 57-country Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, had “placed an incomplete and misleading picture of the factual situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar”.
She told the panel of 17 judges that the situation in Rakhine state was “complicated and not easy to fathom”.
Disproportionate military force may have been used and civilians killed, she conceded, but said the acts did not constitute genocide.
“Surely, under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis,” she said. “Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers that are accused of wrongdoing?”
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s remarks this morning fly in the face of all the evidence gathered by the UN, and the testimony our own teams have heard from countless survivors,” said George Graham, director of humanitarian advocacy at Save the Children.
“Rohingya families have faced patterns of unimaginable horrors in a campaign of violence. Children and their parents have been systematically killed, maimed and raped. Despite the claims that these violations are under investigation and will be dealt with domestically, the government of Myanmar has failed at every turn to punish those responsible.
“The world can no longer accept Myanmar’s tactics of delay and diversion. Justice delayed is justice denied.”
Fionna Smyth, Oxfam’s head of humanitarian campaigns, said: “All ethnic groups living in Rakhine state have told us there is ongoing violence committed against them by the Myanmar military.
“The situation is particularly urgent and stark for the tens of thousands of Rohingya forced to live in squalid camps. They live their lives behind barbed-wire fences and military checkpoints, unable to take children to hospital or school, or to go fishing or to the market.
“It’s vital the Rohingya and other ethnic groups get the justice and protection they so desperately need and the violence and persecution in Rakhine comes to an end.”
On Tuesday, Ms Suu Kyi listened impassively as lawyers for Gambia detailed graphic testimony of Rohingya suffering at the hands of Myanmar’s security forces.
During three days of hearings this week, judges are listening to the first phase of the case, in which Gambia has requested “provisional measures”, the equivalent of a restraining order against Myanmar to protect the Rohingya until the case is heard in full.
Additional reporting by agencies