THE HAGUE (AP) - The UN's highest court on Tuesday (Dec 10) began a hearing into allegations of genocide in Myanmar over the military campaign against the Rohingya minority, with leader Aung San Suu Kyi set to defend those who once held her under house arrest.
Scores of Rohingya supporters gathered outside the International Court of Justice in The Hague behind a banner marked "Stop Genocide". Some carried photos of Suu Kyi with "Shame" and "agent of the military" written under them.
Myanmar's military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.
The head of a UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned in October that "there is a serious risk of genocide recurring".
It also found that Myanmar should be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against the Rohingya.
Gambia filed the case requesting that the world court take "all measures within its power to prevent all acts that amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide". Gambia took the action on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation.
Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy and human rights under Myanmar's then ruling junta, sat attentively in the front row. She will lead the Myanmar delegation in her capacity as foreign minister and is expected to address the court on Wednesday.
Myanmar has strongly denied the charges but says it stands ready to take action against wrongdoers if there is sufficient evidence.
A statement on the website of the Ministry of the Interior said recently that the renewed international pressure on the country was due to a lack of understanding of "the complexities of the issue and the narratives of the people of Myanmar".
Gambia is requesting that provisional measures be taken to prevent "extrajudicial killings or physical abuse; rape or other forms of sexual violence; burning of homes or villages; destruction of lands and livestock, deprivation of food and other necessities of life, or any other deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part".
A group of seven Nobel peace prize winners has called on Suu Kyi "to publicly acknowledge the crimes, including genocide, committed against the Rohingya. We are deeply concerned that instead of condemning these crimes, Aung San Suu Kyi is actively denying that these atrocities even occurred."
They wrote in a signed statement ahead of the hearing, which runs until Thursday, that "Aung San Suu Kyi must be held criminally accountable, along with her army commanders, for crimes committed."
Suu Kyi was seen as a light for democracy and human rights as she was held under house arrest for about 15 years until her release in 2010. She became a beacon of hope after leading her National League for Democracy party to election victory in 2015.
In Myanmar, hundreds of people have rallied to show their support for her in recent days.
At one rally, around 700 people, including many NLD party members, gathered outside the colonial-era City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city.
As the crowd waved national flags and listened to music and poetry, a popular local singer told them "Mother Suu is the bravest human being in the world - her weapon is love."