Myanmar Leader Asks UN Court to Toss Genocide Case

Locals in Yangon, Myanmar, read through newspapers Thursday with headlines about Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi at an International Court of Justice hearing. (AP Photo/Thein Zaw)

THE HAGUE, Netherlands (CN) – Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi asked the United Nations’ highest court Thursday to drop a case accusing her country Mynamar of committing genocide against a Muslim minority group.

Denying those claims, Suu Kyi referred to the violence, which has left an estimated 10,000 Rohingya Muslims dead and another 700,000 displaced, as an “internal conflict” in Myanmar and claimed that interference by the International Court of Justice would undermine the ongoing reconciliation process.

Supporters of Myanmar leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi outside the International Court of Justice on Thursday. (CNS Photo/Molly Quell)

Her concluding remarks before the ICJ lasted a mere five minutes, ending the three-day hearing early. Suu Kyi – who is Myanmar’s state counsellor, the equivalent of a prime minister – left directly after its conclusion, refusing to speak to reporters or address the hundreds of her supporters who had gathered outside The Hague-based court.

Thursday’s hearing was the last day of arguments in a case brought by the small west African nation of The Gambia under the 1948 Genocide Convention, which requires members to “prevent and punish” genocide. Both countries are signatories.

The Gambia wants the ICJ to take jurisdiction in the case and issue provisional measures to prevent Myanmar from committing further violence.

Should the court accept jurisdiction, Myanmar can still raise preliminary objections that would prevent the case from moving forward to a full hearing on the merits.

The first part of Thursday’s hearing was given to The Gambia to rebut the arguments made by Myanmar the day before.

Paul Reichler of Foley Hoag, the law firm representing The Gambia, warned those in the full courtroom that they might want to close their eyes as he showed a bloody photo of Rohingya men who were executed and piled into a mass grave.

That photo was obtained by news agency Reuters, whose journalists were investigating the murder of 10 Rohingya men and boys by state security forces in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.  Those journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, spent more than a year in jail for violating Myanmar’s Official Secrets Act before being pardoned after an international outcry.

The perpetrators of the murders were also arrested but were then pardoned by the country’s military.

“They didn’t deny genocidal intent,” Reichler said, referring to the conclusion of a 2017 UN fact-finding mission about the Myanmar government’s crackdown of the Muslim minority group, who mostly live in the western part of the country, along the border with Bangladesh.

Suu Kyi, wearing a ruffled pink dress and pearls, appeared to be drowsy during the 90-minute long morning session.

Myanmar’s response in the afternoon focused heavily on pushing back on the idea that The Gambia has standing to bring a complaint at all. Christopher Staker of 39 Essex Chambers said the ICJ had no jurisdiction in the case.

He went on to question the financing of The Gambia’s legal team, as the Muslim-majority country is supported by the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, a 57-state member international organization.

The Genocide Convention does not mention financing and court watchers say that who pays for the legal team has no bearing on the case.

“The eyes of the world are on this court,” Abubacarr Tambadou, The Gambia’s minister of justice, said in the conclusion of his country’s portion of the hearing. Canada and The Netherlands, where the court is based, issued a statement on Monday saying the case had their support.

The United States marked International Human Rights Day on Tuesday by issuing new sanctions against top generals in Myanmar under the Magnitsky Act, which targets people who perpetrate human rights abuses and corruption. The U.S. sanctions were mentioned by The Gambia as evidence of Myanmar’s wrongdoing.

ICJ President Abdulqawi Yusuf said a decision in the case will be announced “in due course.”

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