THE HAGUE: Gambia hit out on Thursday at Aung San Suu Kyi’s “silence” over the plight of Rohingyas after the Nobel peace laureate defended Myanmar against genocide charges at the UN’s top court.
Lawyers for the African country said her arguments that Myanmar’s 2017 military crackdown was a “clearance operation” targeting militants ignored widespread allegations of mass murder, abuse and forced deportation.
“Madame agent, your silence said far more than your words,” Gambia’s lawyer Philippe Sands told the International Court of Justice, referring to Suu Kyi, who is officially acting as Myanmar’s agent in the case.
“The word ‘abuse’ did not once pass the lips of the agent,” added Sands, as Suu Kyi sat impassively in the courtroom, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair.
Gambia has taken majority-Buddhist Myanmar to the court in the Hague, accusing it of breaching the 1948 UN Genocide convention and seeking emergency measures to protect the Rohingya.
Once regarded as an international rights icon for standing up to Myanmar’s brutal junta, Suu Kyi’s reputation has been tarnished by her decision to side with the military over the Rohingya crisis.
She used a dramatic appearance at the court in The Hague on Wednesday to say there was no “genocidal intent” behind the operation that led to some 740,000 Rohingya fleeing into neighbouring Bangladesh.
Suu Kyi defended Myanmar’s actions saying it faced an “internal conflict” and that the military conducted “clearance operations” after an attack by Rohingya militants in August 2017.
But Paul Reichler, another of Gambia’s lawyers, said that those killed included “infants beaten to death or torn from their mothers arms and thrown into rivers to drown. How many of them were terrorists?”
“Armed conflict can never be an excuse for genocide.”
The lawyer said Suu Kyi had also failed to deny the conclusions of a 2018 UN investigation that found that genocide had been committed in Myanmar against the Rohingya. “What is most striking is what Myanmar has not denied,” Reichler said.
A decision on the measures could take months, while a final ruling if the ICJ decides to take on the full case could take years.
Meanwhile, crowds have gathered for the past three evenings in a small park in downtown Myanmar’s capital Yangon to hear accusations of genocide delivered thousands of miles away at the United Nation’s top court in The Hague.
Truck drivers, cyclists, government staff, monks and nuns, clustered round big screens outside city hall to watch lawyers recount harrowing tales of Rohingya refugees who survived a 2017 military crackdown that drove 730,000 into Bangladesh. Myanmar’s legal team argues that campaign was not genocide.
A dozen who spoke to Reuters voiced unwavering support for leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is leading a team of lawyers to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands to defend the Myanmar government and military.
“I’ve come here every day to watch the court hearing,” said U Chaw, a 62-year-old municipal staffer dressed in a blue uniform as he watched lawyers speak on behalf of Gambia, the African country which brought charges last month.
The testimony has at times been graphic. On Tuesday, Gambia’s legal team outlined testimony of alleged bloody excesses by soldiers, including mass killings, rape, and the burning of hundreds of villages. UN investigators estimated 10,000 people may have been killed.
On Wednesday, they displayed images of the dead bodies of 10 Rohingya killed in the village of Inn Din.
As the pictures appeared, U Chaw said he had never seen them. Nevertheless, he said, he believed foreign media funded by groups was spreading false information.
“I am really glad that Daw Suu went there and took a chance to say the truth to the world,” he said. — AFP