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International Court Begins Consideration of Genocide Case Against Myanmar


Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks in front of the judges on the second day of hearings in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The H
International Court Begins Consideration of Genocide Case Against Myanmar
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Public hearings on genocide accusations against Myanmar have ended at the International Court of Justice in The Hague, Netherlands.

On Thursday, the lawyer presenting the case against Myanmar said Burmese leader Aung San Suu Kyi ignored reports of mass killings and rape as she defended her country at the United Nations court.

Paul Reichler told the ICJ Suu Kyi chose to ignore the reported sexual violence because "it is undeniable and unspeakable."

Suu Kyi said during hearings Wednesday that the charge of genocide is “misleading” because “cycles of intercommunal violence” in Myanmar date “back to the 1940s.” She argued that the military’s action in Rakhine state, Myanmar, was an anti-terrorism campaign against a violent Rohingya extremist group.

Aung San Suu Kyi said the Rohingya minority fled from a civil conflict started by planned attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The armed group attacked security positions in western Rakhine state in August 2017. She said "Myanmar's defense services” answered those terror attacks, targeting the militants who had carried them out.

She also said that Myanmar is seeking to investigate and bring to justice any crime done during the campaign by troops and others.

At least 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh during the Myanmar military campaign. A U.N. investigation found that campaign was carried out "with genocidal intent." Investigators said as many as 10,000 Rohingya, a Muslim minority in Myanmar, were killed.

U.N. investigators spoke to witnesses of the military action. The witnesses provided many reports of massacres, extrajudicial killings, mass rapes and the burning of entire villages.

The Gambia brought the case against Myanmar to the ICJ, as requested by the Organization for Islamic Cooperation. When the hearings opened Tuesday, lawyers for The Gambia told of the reported atrocities.

The Gambia is seeking special measures to protect the Rohingyas until the genocide case is heard in full.

Gambia's Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou addresses judges of the International Court of Justice for the first day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.
Gambia's Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou addresses judges of the International Court of Justice for the first day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019.

Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou told reporters, "We are signatories to the Genocide Convention like any other state. It shows that you don't have to have military power or economic power to stand for justice.”

Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy stand against Myanmar's military government at the time. It placed her under house arrest for 15 years until finally freeing her in 2010. But her defense of the military's actions against the Rohingya has damaged her public image as a fighter for democracy and human rights.

The Rohingya were excluded from a 1982 citizenship law that bases full legal status through membership in a government-recognized native group. The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, a move that has left the ethnic group stateless.

A ruling from the court to approve measures to protect the Rohingya is expected within weeks. A final ruling on the accusation of genocide could take several years.

I’m Caty Weaver.

Caty Weaver adapted this story from reports by VOA and The Associated Press. Ashley Thompson was the editor.

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Words in This Story

intercommunal adj. occurring or existing between two or more communities

massacre n. the violent killing of many people

extrajudicial – adj. something done outside legal authority

atrocity n. a very cruel or terrible act or action

signatory n. a person, country, or organization that has signed an official document

status n. the official position of a person or thing according to the law

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