Aung San Suu Kyi rapped for 'silence' over genocide claims against Myanmar

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi leaving the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' top court, in The Hague of the Netherlands. The court is hearing a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Ro
Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi leaving the International Court of Justice, the United Nations' top court, in The Hague of the Netherlands. The court is hearing a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population. PHOTO: REUTERS

Lawyers say she ignored allegations of mass murder, rape in defending 2017 ops

THE HAGUE/BANGLADESH • Gambia's lawyers hit out yesterday at Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi's "silence" over the plight of Rohingya Muslims, after the Nobel peace laureate defended Myanmar against genocide charges at the United Nations' top court.

Lawyers for the African country said her arguments that Myanmar's 2017 military crackdown was a "clearance operation" targeting militants ignored widespread allegations of mass murder, rape and forced deportation.

"Madame agent, your silence said far more than your words," Gambia's lawyer Philippe Sands said in the International Court of Justice (ICJ), referring to Ms Suu Kyi, who is officially acting as Myanmar's agent in the case.

"The word 'rape' did not once pass the lips of the agent," added Mr Sands, as Ms Suu Kyi sat impassively in the courtroom, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair.

Mostly-Muslim Gambia has taken majority-Buddhist Myanmar to the court in The Hague, accusing it of breaching the 1948 UN genocide convention and seeking emergency measures to protect the Rohingya.

Once regarded as an international rights icon for standing up to Myanmar's brutal junta, Ms Suu Kyi's reputation has been tarnished by her decision to side with the military over the Rohingya crisis.

She used a dramatic appearance at the court in The Hague on Wednesday to say there was no "genocidal intent" behind the operation that led to some 740,000 Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Ms Suu Kyi defended Myanmar's actions, saying it faced an "internal conflict" and that the military conducted "clearance operations" after an attack by Rohingya militants in August 2017.

But Mr Paul Reichler, another of Gambia's lawyers, said those killed included "infants beaten to death or torn from their mothers' arms and thrown into rivers to drown. How many of them were terrorists?

 
 
 

"Armed conflict can never be an excuse for genocide," he added.

The lawyer said Ms Suu Kyi had also failed to deny the accusations made in the conclusions of a UN probe last year that found that genocide had been committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya. "What is most striking is what Myanmar has not denied," Mr Reichler said.

A decision on the measures could take months, while a final ruling if the ICJ decides to take on the full case could take years.

Rohingya refugees accused Ms Suu Kyi of lying to the ICJ in testimony on Wednesday in which she denied that her country's armed forces were guilty of genocide against the Muslim minority group.

"The world will judge their claim of no genocide with evidence," said a Rohingya leader, Mr Mohammed Mohibullah, who is chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights.

"A thief never admits he is a thief, but justice can be delivered through evidence. The world has obtained evidence from us," he said at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district.

"Even if Suu Kyi lies, she won't be spared. She will certainly face justice. The world should take steps against her," he said.

Mr Nur Kamal, another refugee at Kutupalong, also rejected Ms Suu Kyi's testimony.

"The military cordoned off people and killed them by opening fire, setting them ablaze - isn't this genocide? Will this be justified if Suu Kyi says so?" Mr Kamal said. "The world will not accept that. The whole world has seen the level of torture of us. It is still going on."

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, ASSOCIATED PRESS

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 13, 2019, with the headline 'Suu Kyi rapped for 'silence' over genocide claims against Myanmar'. Print Edition | Subscribe