'Disgraced Nobel laureate' Aung San Suu Kyi to defend Rohingya genocide charge at The Hague

'Disgraced Nobel laureate' Aung San Suu Kyi to defend Rohingya genocide charge at The Hague
Aung San Suu Kyi will defend Myanmar and argue that the military responded legitimately to ethnic insurgents.
3 min read
10 December, 2019
Aung San Suu Kyi has been accused of complicity in the crimes [Getty]
Aung San Suu Kyi is attending the UN’s International Court of Justice in the Hague to defend Myanmar over accusations of genocide against its minority Muslim Rohingya population.

The Myanmar leader is expected to defend the country against genocide charges and argue that killings by her military were legitimate responses to attacks by ethnic insurgents.

San Suu Kyi, who was once awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, will address allegations brought forward that Myanmar committed human rights abuses against the Muslim Rohingya.

The case, which has been brought to the ICJ by the African nation of The Gambia, comes after thousands of Rohingya were killed and some 700,000 fled to neighbouring Bangladesh during a brutal military crackdown in the Buddhist-majority country in 2017.

Myanmar’s state leader has gone from being internationally recognised as an arbiter of peace with her Nobel Peace Prize Award in 1991 and subsequent 15 years under house arrest, to denying that ethnic violence occurred against the Rohingya minority.

Following a three-day hearing at the ICJ, Myanmar will be asked to approve temporary protective measures for the Rohingya.

Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou (L) speaks before UN's International Court of Justice [Getty]

Rohingya crackdown 

In August 2017 Myanmar security forces swept through hundreds of Rohingya villages in the Rakhine state, killing, raping and taking them to detention sites to be tortured.

Some one million Rohingya Muslims resided in Myanmar at the time, and as a minority were consistently denied citizenship.

Soldiers burned homes, shops and mosques, and such brutality culminated in the mass exodus of over 700,000 people fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.

Myanmar’s actions have been condemned by human rights organisations including Amnesty International, who called it “ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity.”

Gambia, a majority-Muslim state in West Africa brought the case to the ICJ, where it alleges that Myanmar breached the 1948 genocide convention which was put in place following the Holocaust.

The Gambia argues that “from around October 2016 the Myanmar military [the ‘Tatmadaw’] and other Myanmar security forces began widespread and systematic ‘clearance operations’ – the term that Myanmar itself uses – against the Rohingya group.”

It added that “genocidal acts” were committed to “destroy the Rohingya as a group” through the use of “mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages.”

It went on to conclude that such “genocidal acts” continued from August 2017 onwards on a “more massive and wider geographical scale.”

As Myanmar’s state councillor, and having presided over the country when the atrocities were taking place, San Suu Kyi has been accused by the UN investigator of “complicity” in the crimes.

Whilst the case is not being brought against Aung San Suu Kyi [the ICJ cannot punish individuals in this way], she is nonetheless the recipient of much criticism.

In September Yanghee Lee, professor of psychology and renounced activist, told the BBC: "I implore you to open your eyes...and please use your moral authority, before it is too late."

Likely outcome

This is the third genocide case filed at the court in The Hague since the Second World War.

The Gambia is asking the court to impose “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya currently in Myanmar, and if it is to pass, they will be legally binding.

In order for the court to rule in The Gambia’s favour, the court will have to determine that Myanmar’s intentions were genocidal, and the state acted “with intent to destroy in whole or in part” the community.

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