Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s state counsellor, once said: “Some people have been saying that I know nothing of Burmese politics. The trouble is that I know too much.” Those words were uttered in another era when Aung San Suu Kyi was the focal point of democratic efforts in Myanmar. Now, three decades later, Aung San Suu Kyi claims to know nothing about the alleged ongoing genocide in her country. Such is her assuredness that she has decided to lead the delegation to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in defence of Myanmar in a landmark case, brought by Gambia, which alleges that Myanmar has been violating the Genocide Convention. DhakaTribune asked some of the world’s foremost experts and also Rohingya activists on what they think about Aung San Suu Ky’s decision to go to The Hague.
Professor Penny Green, Queen Mary University of London, one of the first academics to analyze the Rohingya crisis as one of genocide.
Aung San Suu Kyi will go to the Hague to defend her political class and Myanmar’s generals against the charge of genocide with a well-rehearsed repertoire of denial. And in denial, both material and rhetorical, she is particularly well practiced. Since her rise to power she has denied the right of Rohingya to self-identify, she has denied them the most basic human rights, she has denied that they are held in concentration camps in Rakhine state at the same time as denying them adequate food, health care, freedom of movement and access to livelihood in those very camps. When the military launched its final assault on the Rohingya in Northern Rakhine State in 2016-17 Aung San Suu Kyi was quick to deny well proven accusations of mass killings and mass rape.
And she defended the military in their denial of the worst human right violations imaginable. The Hague will provide yet another forum for genocide denial. Her leadership of Myanmar’s delegation is a clear illustration of the intimate relationship she and her government have with the military. They have spoken with one voice and acted with one barbarous intention – to eliminate the Rohingya from Myanmar soil, polity and history. Claims that Suu Kyi had no alternative but to acquiesce in the face of Tatmadaw (official name of the Armed Forces of Myanmar) power hold no water given her record of human rights violations, while her decision to lead Myanmar’s defence of its indefensible brutality at the ICJ demonstrates her iron-clad complicity and belief in the crimes that she and her co-conspirators perpetrated. The evidence is incontrovertible, Aung San Suu Kyi is a genocidaire who both supported, assisted in engineering and participated in the coordinated destruction of the Myanmar Rohingya people.
Laetitia van den Assum, Dutch diplomat and former member of Kofi Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, Myanmar.
First of all, I think it is good that Myanmar is engaging with Gambia and the ICJ. And it is not at all unusual that foreign ministers lead missions to the Court. Remember, for example, Thailand v. Cambodia about a border dispute which related to the ancient Preah Vihear temple a few years ago.
What is different though, is that in this case the Court is asked to establish whether or not the state of Myanmar can be held accountable for genocide, the crime of crimes. And even though the case is not about individual criminal responsibility but about state responsibility, the person who has been the de facto head of government since early 2016 will come into strong focus.
Of course, Myanmar has the right to obtain the best international law experts it can find. I hope that the Myanmar team will listen to them and that a sound legal strategy is developed. The political arguments we continue to hear may satisfy a domestic audience but not the court
More generally, the three legal cases (International Criminal Court, International Court of Justice and the Universal Jurisdiction case in Argentina) are welcome if they can halt impunity and obtain justice for the Rohingya. But accountability is only one element of a much broader strategy to achieve peace, stability, justice and development for all who call Rakhine state their home. Security sector reform, judiciary reform as well as ensuring the equality of all before the law should be part of the mix. At present they are not.
Professor John Packer, Neuberger-Jesin Professor of International Conflict Resolution at the Faculty of Law, University of Ottawa.
The appearance of Aung San Suu Kyi leading the defence in The Hague is certainly striking - unusual to say the least for a Head of Government and even Foreign Minister to appear, especially without legal education or training. This indicates it is almost entirely about politics... and likely more about the domestic effect in Myanmar where she may enhance her position in "defending the nation". But internationally her participation has raised considerably attention to the case, and inescapably adds legitimacy to the process which can hardly later be condemned. In addition, the Lady's choice to lead the defence erases the idea of a bright red line between her and the civilian Government, on the one hand, and the Tatmadaw and security forces on the other hand: before the Court, they are one and the same. And the exercise of her choice indicates either concurrence with the attributed actions (and shared responsibility) or an extraordinary absence of judgement (or both).
Wai Wai Nu, Rohingya lawyer and activist. At the age of 18, she and her family were imprisoned by Myanmar authorities for seven years. She is currently a visiting scholar at Columbia University and also runs the Women’s Peace Network in Myanmar.
Aung San Suu Kyi is receiving increasing public support as she might have calculated. However, her decision has also created a severe division among the people. She would do well to remember that at the end of the day, the public will come to realize the truth, and then the people of Myanmar will blame her. Internationally, she will be losing more credibility for her continuous denial and defence of the military. Things are much more serious than she is assuming. Many actors, including UN Independent Investigative Mechanism for Myanmar, are monitoring all her and her government’s actions.
Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK. He campaigned for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi. In 2012, he personally discussed Rohingya issues with her.
At the end of the day the only beneficiary will be the military. They can sit back and watch Aung San Suu Kyi, whom they see as one of their greatest threats, having her reputation with the international community and ethnic people in Burma even further damaged defending the Tatmadaw’s crimes. The real problem with Aung San Suu Kyi is not just that she defends the actions of the military. As leader of the civilian government she is also pursuing racist genocidal policies against the Rohingya denying them rights, access to education, food, and healthcare. Her policies are killing people on a weekly basis.
Politically this case is a good opportunity for her. Ahead of an election year she can play the nationalist card defending the country against foreign attacks, and by defending the military she can use this in her attempts to try to win round the military into accepting democratic reforms. One motivation is that Aung San Suu Kyi genuinely does not believe that genocide is being committed. Like many people in Burma, she seems to believe that, as they think, Rohingya are illegal immigrants and therefore human rights violations against them don't count. They are less than human.
Even before the Rohingya issue came to the fore, Aung San Suu Kyi has always opposed international justice mechanisms. She calls it revenge rather than justice.
Sareta Ashraph, International criminal lawyer working on accountability for ISIS genocidal crimes against the Yazidis.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s role in the proceedings - an agent - is a specific one. While the agent has the same rights and obligations as a solicitor in a national court, she or he also serves, effectively, as the head of a special diplomatic mission with powers to commit a sovereign State. For Aung San Suu Kyi, her decision to act as Myanmar’s agent in the ICJ hearings is significant. The Gambia alleges that Myanmar has violated the Genocide Convention as a result of its campaign of killing, sexual violence and other atrocities against Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim community. Aung San Suu Kyi consistent refusal to criticise Myanmar’s army for its attacks on the Rohingya has been described as “a sustained exercise in moral equivalence.” As she rises to her feet before the Court, any lingering hopes one may have for this former human rights icon and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize are likely to be extinguished.
Dr Hla Kyaw Khubybe is a Rohingya and chairman of the European Rohingya Council. He is based in the Netherlands and will be organizing demonstrations against Aung San Suu Kyi.
There are two big reasons behind Aung San Suu Kyi's intention to lead the Myanmar delegation, I believe. Firstly, she still believes that her popularity in the West is still present to some extent. Therefore, she might think that her presence could influence the ICJ process to an extent. She might also believe that her words of denials of genocidal crimes committed by the military and other governmental institutions under her watch would be taken as the truth. As a con artist with a Nobel prize, she excels in lying and denying empirical truths concerning her government and military and the heinous crimes they committed against our people.
Secondly, she is preparing for the upcoming election. Due to her incompetence and failure to bring Myanmar forward, her popularity is gradually fading away in Myanmar. However, ICJ case is bringing Burmese people out in support of her. She is mobilizing Burmese nationalism in order to stay in power.