Human rights activists are calling for a worldwide boycott of Myanmar to show support for that country’s Rohingya ethnic minority.
On Tuesday, the International Court of Justice in The Hague begins three days of hearings on accusations of genocide against Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Burmese leader and Nobel Peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi arrived in the Dutch city on Sunday. She is to defend her country’s actions toward the Muslim minority group during a military campaign that began in November of 2017. The United Nations has said the campaign was carried out with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings and rape.
The African nation of The Gambia brought the legal action against the mostly Buddhist country of Myanmar last month.
The Netherlands and Canada released a joint statement in support of The Gambia on Monday.
The two countries said, "Canada and the Netherlands consider it their obligation to support The Gambia before the International Court of Justice, as it concerns all of humanity."
Hundreds of thousands on the run
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017 during a military-led offensive in Rakhine state. The Rohingya said the army burned villages, killed members of their communities and raped women and children.
Myanmar officials deny this. They say the military operation was a legal action against terror attacks by Rohingya militants.
At the hearings, The Gambia’s legal team will ask the 17 international judges to order “provisional measures.” These measures are meant to protect the Rohingya before the whole case can be heard.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s office said last month that she would lead her country’s team in The Hague to “defend the national interest.”
Rohingya groups and Burmese government supporters are expected to hold opposing protests in The Hague during the hearings.
The Free Rohingya Coalition said in a statement that it was starting a “Boycott Myanmar Campaign” with 30 organizations in 10 countries. The group urged “corporations, foreign investors, professional and cultural organizations” to cut ties with Myanmar.
More than 1 million Rohingya are now living in refugee camps in Bangladesh. Many said they are praying to see justice done at the court.
Thirty-one-year-old Momtaz Begum spoke to Reuters about her experience during the military attacks. She cried while describing how soldiers trapped her in her house in northern Rakhine and set fire to the roof. She escaped to find her three sons dead and her daughter beaten and bleeding.
“The army killed my husband,” she said. “They raped me and torched my house, they stabbed my 6-year-old daughter in the head. Why did they kill our innocent people, our kids? Why did they torture and rape our women? We demand justice.”
Myanmar so far denied almost all reports made by refugees against its troops, including those about burning property, mass rape and killings. It has promised to punish any soldiers involved in what it says were rare cases of wrongdoing.
Additional demonstrations in support of Aung San Suu Kyi are planned in the major Burmese cities of Yangon and Mandalay when the hearings begin.
I’m Caty Weaver.
Reuters reported this story. Caty Weaver adapted it for VOA Learning English. Mario Ritter, Jr. was the editor.
Words in This Story
intent –n. a plan or aim
obligation –n. something that must be done because of a rule, law or promise
provisional –adj. something that is accepted for the present time but that is likely to be changed
torch –v. to set fire to something