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Suu Kyi urges ICJ to drop Rohingya genocide case

  • Published at 07:12 pm December 12th, 2019
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Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi leaves the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the top United Nations court, during court hearings in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, in The Hague, Netherlands December 12, 2019 Reuters

Court adjourns to render an order as soon as possible, as Gambia says Myanmar cannot be trusted to try its own soldiers

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on World Court judges yesterday to dismiss an accusation of genocide against the country's Rohingya Muslim minority, saying its own justice system should be given the chance to work first.

Gambia has accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in a military campaign that expelled more than 730,000 Rohingya from Myanmar and it has asked the International Court of Justice (ICJ) to order "provisional measures" to prevent more harm.

But Suu Kyi, who has denied genocide, said the UN court should not have jurisdiction, reports Reuters.

"Myanmar requests the court to remove the case from its list," Suu Kyi said on the third and final day of hearings in The Hague. "In the alternative, [the court should] reject the request for provisional measures submitted by the Gambia."

She also said that the case could "undermine reconciliation" and that it was “important to avoid any reignition of the 2016-17 internal armed conflict.”

Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said the 17-judge panel would render an order “as soon as possible,” but gave no specific date.

Gambia insisted earlier that Myanmar could not be trusted to hold its soldiers accountable for alleged atrocities against its Rohingya minority, dismissing calls from Suu Kyi for the court to wait for the outcome of accountability efforts and local trials.

Gambia lawyer Paul Reichler said Myanmar had not even tried during the hearings to deny most of the accusations of extreme violence against its military, known as the Tatmadaw, nor of the mass deportation of Rohingya following a 2017 crackdown.

Statements from Myanmar that it was taking action to prosecute soldiers accused of wrongdoing were not credible, he said.

William Schabas, a Canadian attorney defending Myanmar against genocide charges at the U.N.'s International Court of Justice and Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi attend a hearing on the second day of hearings in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the ICJ in The Hague, Netherlands December 11, 2019 | Reuters"How can anyone possibly expect the Tatmadaw to hold itself accountable for genocidal acts against the Rohingya, when six of its top generals including the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, have all been accused of genocide by the UN fact-finding mission and recommended for criminal prosecution?" he said.

He was referring to the findings of UN investigators, who in an August 2018 report said the Myanmar military had carried out killings and mass rape with "genocidal intent" in the 2017 operation.

More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh after the military launched its crackdown, during which the UN investigators said 10,000 people may have been killed.

Gambia's legal team had outlined graphic testimony from their report at the first day of hearings on Tuesday.

The ICJ is the UN's highest court. Its decisions are binding and not subject to appeal, though it has no means of enforcement and countries have occasionally ignored them or failed to fully adhere.

After the decision on provisional measures, the process may continue to a full case that could last years.

‘Silence said far more than your words’

Suu Kyi, once championed in the West for her decades-long fight for democracy for Myanmar, told the court on Wednesday the military-led "clearance operation" in western Rakhine state was a counterterrorism response to coordinated Rohingya militant attacks against dozens of police stations in August 2017.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate argued Myanmar did investigate and prosecute soldiers and officers accused of crimes. She said that under those circumstances, the court should not intervene.

"Steps that generate suspicion, sow doubts, or create resentment between communities who have just begun to build a fragile foundation of trust could undermine reconciliation," she said in closing remarks yesterday.

She added that even if there had been violations of humanitarian law during the conflict, they did not rise to the level of genocide.

Earlier, The Gambia, on the other hand, condemned her "silence" over the plight of the Rohingya Muslims, after she defended Myanmar against the genocide charges, reports AFP.

The west African country’s lawyers said her "clearance operation" argument ignored widespread allegations of mass murder, rape and forced deportation.

"Madame agent, your silence said far more than your words," The Gambia's lawyer Philippe Sands told the ICJ yesterday, referring to 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," Sands added, as Suu Kyi sat impassively in the courtroom.

Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou also pushed the court to impose the emergency measures, saying there was a "serious and imminent risk of genocide recurring" and that "the lives of these human beings are at risk."

Outside the ornate Peace Palace in The Hague that houses the ICJ, protesters from both sides lined up yesterday. When Suu Kyi returned to court for the final statements her supporters cheered loudly.

Meanwhile, Rohingya Muslims in refugee camps in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh were praying that the suit succeeds.

Nurul Haq, 54, who said he fled to Bangladesh after his son was shot dead by the army, said: "The speech Aung San Suu Kyi has given in the court is absolutely lies, all lies, all lies. They tortured us so much... Only justice can heal our wounds."

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