International

Myanmar Rohingya: Suu Kyi rejects genocide claims at UN court

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Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi has defended her country against allegations of genocide at the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ).

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate responded to widespread claims that Myanmar (formerly Burma) committed atrocities against Muslim Rohingya.

In her opening remarks, she called the case against Myanmar "incomplete and incorrect".

She said troubles in Rakhine, where many Rohingya lived, go back centuries.

Thousands of Rohingya were killed and more than 700,000 fled to neighbouring Bangladesh during an army crackdown in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017.

Myanmar has always insisted it was tackling an extremist threat in Rakhine state, and Ms Suu Kyi maintained that stance, describing the violence as an "internal armed conflict" triggered by Rohingya militant attacks on government security posts.

Conceding that Myanmar's military might have used disproportionate force at times, she said that if soldiers had committed war crimes "they will be prosecuted".

Ms Suu Kyi – once celebrated internationally as a champion of democracy – has been de facto leader of Myanmar since April 2016, before the alleged genocide began. She does not have control over the army, but has been accused by the UN investigator of "complicity" in the military clearances.

Ms Suu Kyi has chosen to stand up for the same army that kept her under house arrest for years.

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She told the court her country was committed to the safe repatriation of people displaced from Rakhine, and urged the court to avoid any action that could aggravate the conflict.

What was the reaction?

At the Kutupalong refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, refugees shouted "Liar, liar, shame!" as they watched Myanmar's leader make her case live on TV.

"She is a liar. A great liar," said Abdur Rahim, 52, at a community centre in the camp.

Outside the court in The Hague, a small group of pro-Rohingya demonstrators shouted: "Aung San Suu Kyi, shame on you!".

But her supporters came too – about 250 pro-Myanmar protesters who held placards bearing her face and the words, "We stand with you."

Pho phyu Thant – a Burmese national now living in Europe – was one of the organisers.

"The world needs to be more patient with Aung San Sui Kyi," she told the BBC.

"We support her and still believe in her. She is the only person who can bring about peace and prosperity in our country and resolve this very complicated situation."

Defiance in the face of horrific testimony

Analysis by Nick Beake, BBC Myanmar correspondent

The weight of history looked to rest heavily as a nervous-looking Aung San Suu Kyi began her defence. She recalled previous acts of genocide and agreed it was the most heinous of crimes.

But she then embarked on a carefully rehearsed argument that Myanmar had simply not joined the global list of shame.

She admitted that, for example, military gunships had targeted civilians – but said Myanmar could be trusted to bring the perpetrators to justice. How could it be genocide, she asked, when a country was actively investigating such wrongdoing?

Outside court, all this was applauded as a patriotic defence by supporters waving banners who had travelled from Myanmar. It was cheered back home by crowds who'd gathered in the main cities, including Yangon and Mandalay, to follow the hearing on big screens.

There was, at one very brief point, a contrition I had not heard before. Without mentioning the Rohingya by name, she spoke specifically about the "suffering" of those who had fled to Bangladesh.

But there was simply no acknowledgment of the three hours of truly horrific testimony of mass murder, rape and arson that the Nobel Peace Prize laureate listened to on Tuesday.

Why is Myanmar in court now?

The Gambia, a small Muslim-majority west African nation, brought the case to the ICJ on behalf of dozens of other Muslim countries.

"All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity that continue to shock our collective conscience, to stop this genocide of its own people," The Gambia's Attorney General and Justice Minister, Abubacarr M Tambadou, told the court.

His country had acted after he visited a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh and heard of killings, rape and torture, he told the BBC in October.

What are the accusations?

At the start of 2017, there were a million Rohingya in Myanmar, most living in Rakhine state.

But Myanmar, a mainly Buddhist country, considers them illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship.

The Rohingya have long complained of persecution, and in 2017 the military – the Tatmadaw – launched a massive military operation in Rakhine.

According to The Gambia's submission to the ICJ, the clearances were "intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part", via mass murder, rape and setting fire to their buildings "often with inhabitants locked inside".

A UN fact-finding mission which investigated the allegations found such compelling evidence that it said the Burmese army must be investigated for genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.

In August, a report accused MyanmaRead More – Source