Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi will lead the country’s defense against allegations of genocide at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) at The Hague next month, the government said Wednesday.
Proceedings filed by Gambia claim Myanmar is responsible for genocidal acts intended to bring about the destruction of the Rohingya Muslim minority group through “mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses.”
Aung San Suu Kyi’s State Counsellor’s Office referred to the Rohingya as “the displaced persons from the Rakhine State” in the statement announcing her plan “to defend the national interest of Myanmar at the ICJ.”
Gambia’s application calls the acts against the Rohingya, violations of the 1948 U.N. Genocide Convention. The West African Nation initiated the request on behalf of the 57 member states of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Since October 2016, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled Rakhine state. Gambia’s suit claims that this is the result of the Myanmar military’s “clearance operations” after several police outposts were attacked by militants.
Myanmar’s leader was once heralded as a champion of democracy prior to assuming power, but her reputation has taken a hit from her previous responses to what U.N. investigators have called crimes against humanity.
The decision to defend Myanmar’s actions next month at the ICJ could further weaken her profile internationally, where she has been stripped of a number of awards and honors.
Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, spokesman for the military, told Reuters that the army was in full support of the state counselor.
“We, the military, will fully cooperate with the government and we will follow the instruction of the government,” he said.
Meanwhile, Min Lwin Oo of the Asian Human Rights Commission told RFA’s Myanmar Service that Aung San Suu Kyi is leading the defense team because she is “already familiar with international laws,” having previously worked at the U.N.
“This is like a civil lawsuit. The other side will submit the accusation and (Myanmar) side will rebut. These activities will be done on paper. It will not become a real trial yet,” he said.
“I think Daw [honorific] Aung San Su Kyi must have assumed that she could talk her way with international parties and resolve the issue at that stage," he added.
But Min Lwin Oo also said even if the lawsuit is accepted by the ICJ, there is not much they can do to enforce any decision.
“Their role is limited to facilitating two parties under international law. They don't have the authority to summon or to arrest individual persons,” he said, adding, “In a dispute between two countries, the country who violated international laws will lose. That's it. They cannot give punishment to individual persons."
The International Court of Justice, founded in 1945 by the U.N. Charter, can be used to settle disputes between states. As a member of the United Nations, Myanmar is an automatic party to the court, but the court itself has no way to enforce its decisions.
Additional reporting and translation by RFA’s Myanmar Service.