Japan Backs Myanmar’s Claim That No Genocide Occurred in Rakhine State

By Nan Lwin 27 December 2019

YANGON—Amid mounting international criticism of Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi over her denial of genocide allegations at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), the Japanese ambassador to Myanmar said his government firmly believes that no genocide was committed in the country, and expressed hope that the court will reject The Gambia’s request that provisional measures be taken against Myanmar.

Japan has become the first country to voice support for Myanmar since the Southeast Asian country’s legal team testified at the World Court, where The Gambia filed a case of genocide over the Rohingya crisis. Other countries including the Netherlands and Canada have stated that in order to uphold international accountability and prevent impunity, they “consider it their obligation to support The Gambia before the ICJ, as it concerns all of humanity.”

“I don’t think that the Myanmar Tatmadaw [military] committed genocide or [had the] intent of genocide. I also don’t think that they have intention to kill all the Muslim residents in Rakhine,” said Ichiro Maruyama, the Japanese ambassador to Myanmar, on Thursday.

He said the actions by the Tatmataw came in response to a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police outposts in 2016 and 2017.

Echoing what Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said at the World Court, the ambassador said Japan doesn’t rule out the possibility that human rights violations occurred in Rakhine State during clashes between the military and ARSA.

“If there were human rights violations, it is important [that Myanmar conduct prosecutions] itself. We will urge the Myanmar government and military to take action seriously,” Maruyama added.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh in late 2017 after the government’s security forces launched clearance operations in northern Rakhine State in response to the attacks by ARSA. UN investigators said the operations had “genocidal intent”. Both the Myanmar government and military have denied the accusations.

In November, The Gambia submitted the genocide case against Myanmar to the World Court. As a preliminary step, the African nation requested the court take provisional measures against Myanmar to prevent further violence.

During three days of initial public hearings in the case, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the ICJ that no genocide was committed in Myanmar, as defined in international law, and described the Rohingya issue as an “internal conflict”.

In her closing remarks on the last day of hearings, she asked the ICJ to reject either the Rohingya genocide case filed against the country or the provisional measures requested by The Gambia.

Since 2017, Japan has acted as a mediator in the Rohingya repatriation process and it continues to work closely with the Myanmar government on solving the problems in Rakhine State. Last year in October, during her trip to Japan, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi praised the country for its understanding and help during a time when tensions have been high between Myanmar and the rest of the world.

Japan’s official support of Myanmar’s stand in the genocide case followed a visit to Myanmar by Natsuo Yamaguchi, a member of Japan’s Upper House from the country’s Komeito party, which is a member of Japan’s coalition government. The top item on Yamaguchi’s agenda was to explain the Japanese government’s stand on the genocide allegation against Myanmar following the ICJ case.

During his stay in Myanmar from Dec. 21 to 25, Yamaguchi met Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and military chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing. He promised Japan would continue to help Myanmar solve the problems in Rakhine State, according to the Japanese ambassador.

During his meeting with Sen-Gen Min Aung Hlaing, the Japanese Upper House MP urged the military to take serious action against those who committed crimes in Rakhine, in accordance with the final report of the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE).

The senior general promised the Japanese MP that the military will take action against human rights violators, saying that if the ICOE found that rights violations occurred, the military will prosecute the offenders.

“We fully believe that the Myanmar military will keep its promise. It is important to investigate and prosecute the people who committed the crimes,” Ambassador Maruyama told the media on Thursday.

Japanese Ambassador to Myanmar Ichiro Maruyama attends a press conference at his residence on Dec. 26. / Myo Min Soe / The Irrawaddy

Following her defense of Myanmar against the The Gambia’s genocide allegations, human rights organizations and the international media have portrayed Daw Aung San Suu Kyi as an apologist for the Myanmar military. Responding to the criticism, the ambassador said, “We don’t see her that way. She made a decision to go to the court because she knows that it is important that the court identify what really happened [in Rakhine].”

“I really respect her [decision]. I am also very proud of her,” Maruyama said.

“Since there is no genocide in Myanmar, the court has no reason to rule that Myanmar has committed genocide [against the Rohingya]. But it is possible [it will] take provisional measures against Myanmar,” he said.

“We are praying that the court does not take provisional measures. If they [do], Japan will look at ways to help Myanmar handle the process smoothly. This is the Japanese government’s stand for Myanmar,” said the ambassador.

ICJ Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said the court would take note of Myanmar’s final submission and render an order regarding the provisional measures “as soon as possible”.

In late November, Myanmar’s military announced it had opened court martial proceedings against a group of soldiers accused of committing atrocities during the 2017 military-led crackdown on Rohingya Muslims. The announcement said the military is cooperating with the ICOE and if the final report found that the soldiers committed rights violations, they would be investigated and prosecuted. Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the World Court that there would be more courts martial when the report is released. The ICOE is set to submit the final report on its special investigation in January.

The ICOE is an independent special-investigation mechanism established by the President of Myanmar to handle allegations of human rights violations and other issues in Rakhine State in the period following the ARSA attacks. Chaired by a former deputy foreign minister from the Philippines, its three other members include a former under secretary-general of the United Nations from Japan.

The ambassador said Japan could not predict how the international community will respond, or whether it will question the credibility of the ICOE. However, the most important thing would be whether the Myanmar government and military take the final report of the ICOE seriously, he said.

“The Tatmadaw will play a vital role in it. We will [hold] further discussions with the Tatmadaw to take against action the people who committed the crimes. We will urge them to do it,” he said.

“By doing this, the final report of the ICOE will earn trust [from the international community],” he added.

“If there is no trust from the international [community] and good relations with them, we cannot expect political stability and economic development in Myanmar. That is the reason that Japan … wants to help the Myanmar government have and rebuild good relations with the international community,” Maruyama stressed.

Despite Rakhine’s tarnished reputation due to the Rohingya crisis, Japan has backed the Myanmar government’s plan to invite both local and foreign investors to Rakhine State in February, as both sides believe improving economic development could solve the state’s issues.

“Some Western countries are [putting] more pressure on Myanmar due to the Rohingya crisis. But our approach is different from them. Our goal is for Myanmar to achieve a democratic transition and economic development,” the ambassador said.

“I think that the West would also like to see it achieve that goal. I don’t think our goals are [so] different,” Maruyama said.

You may also like these stories:

Int’l Media Shows Lack of Fairness, Ignores State Counselor’s Message to the ICJ

Legal Team Defended Myanmar to ‘Best of Their Ability’ at ICJ, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi Says