The Hague (AFP) – Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday denied “genocidal intent” as she defended Myanmar’s military operation against Rohingya Muslims in the UN’s top court.
Addressing judges in The Hague, the civilian leader admitted that the army may have used “disproportionate force” but said that did not prove it was trying to wipe out the minority group.
The African state of The Gambia has taken Myanmar to the International Court of Justice over a bloody 2017 military crackdown in which thousands of people were killed and around 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh.
Once hailed internationally for her defiance of Myanmar’s junta, Ms Suu Kyi was this time on the side of the Southeast Asian nation’s military when she took the stand.
“Regrettably The Gambia has placed before the court a misleading and incomplete picture of the situation in Rakhine state,” Ms Suu Kyi, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair, told the court.
She argued that the army was responding to an attack by hundreds of Rohingya militants in 2017.
“It cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defence services in some cases in disregard of international humanitarian law, or that they did not distinguish clearly enough between fighters and civilians,” she said.
But she said that Myanmar was undertaking its own investigations, adding: “Surely under the circumstances genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.”
The Gambia, which is mostly Muslim, accuses Myanmar of breaching the 1948 genocide convention and has asked the court to take emergency measures to stop further violence.
UN investigators last year concluded that Myanmar’s treatment of the Rohingya amounted to genocide while rights groups have detailed a catalogue of alleged abuses.
Ms Suu Kyi however said that the court, set up in 1946 to rule on disputes between member states, had not confirmed genocide in cases of mass expulsions of civilians in the 1990s Balkans war.
The 74-year-old Ms Suu Kyi sat impassively through graphic accounts of mass murder and rape on Tuesday as Gambia set out its case against Myanmar.
Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou, who opened his country’s case, said it would be “extremely disappointing” if Ms Suu Kyi repeated her previous denials of wrongdoing by Myanmar.
He urged the court to tell he to “stop the genocide”.