THE HAGUE: Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has defended Myanmar’s government against accusations of genocide at the international court of justice, despite admitting the army may have used excessive force against Rohingya Muslims.
Addressing a bench of 17 judges from around the world, the 74-year-old leader dismissed reports of state violence against Rohingya Muslims and blamed the conflict on an uprising by sectarian insurgents.
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An estimated 700,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh since late 2016, escaping military clearance operations that a UN fact-finding mission described as “brutal”. It warned that Myanmar was failing to prevent genocide.
Suu Kyi denied “misleading and incomplete” claims by The Gambia that a 2017 military operation had attempted to exterminate the Rohingya, in a rare address by a state leader to the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
Once hailed worldwide as a rights icon for her defiance of the same generals she is now defending, Suu Kyi also warned the Hague-based court that its involvement in the case risked “feeding the flames of extreme polarisation”.
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Nearly three-quarters of a million Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after the Myanmar military launched a huge offensive that it said was in response to attacks by local militants.
“Regrettably, The Gambia has placed before the court a misleading and incomplete factual picture of the situation in Rakhine state,” said Suu Kyi, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair.
Brushing off international criticism, the 74-year-old civilian leader said Buddhist-majority Myanmar was dealing with an “internal armed conflict” and that troubles in the area go back centuries.
“Please bear in mind this complex situation and the challenge to sovereignty and security in our country,” she said. “Surely under the circumstances genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.”
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Lawyers for Myanmar argued that to prove genocide, international law required concrete proof of the intention to destroy a race of people.
ICJ judges have only once before ruled that genocide was committed, in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.
Myanmar meanwhile faces a number of legal challenges over the fate of the Rohingya, including a probe by the International Criminal Court.