Myanmar State Counselor Asks World Court to Reject Genocide Case

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 13 December 2019

THE HAGUE, Netherlands—Myanmar State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi asked the International Court of Justice to reject the Rohingya genocide case filed against the country by The Gambia in her closing remarks to the judges on the last of three days of public hearings.

On Thursday, both Myanmar and The Gambia presented their final oral arguments to the United Nations court, with the State Counselor making the final submission.

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 a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on police outposts in the area. UN investigators said the operations had “genocidal intent”. Both the Myanmar government and military have denied the accusations.

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

The ICJ held public hearings in the case from Dec. 10 to 12. On Thursday afternoon, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, as Myanmar’s agent in the case, delivered her closing remarks.

She said, “Myanmar requests the court to remove the case from its list, in an alternative, to reject the request for the indication of provisional measures submitted by The Gambia.”

Her request came as no surprise, after the State Counselor told the court on Wednesday that no genocide was committed in Myanmar, as defined in international law, and described the Rohingya issue as an “internal conflict”.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi told the court on Thursday that two years have passed since the internal armed conflict between the Tatmadaw (Myanmar’s military) and ARSA, and that a second court martial is now under way, referring to a military trial of a number of soldiers accused of failing to follow the Tatmadaw’s rules of engagement during clearance operations in Gutar Pyin Village in northern Rakhine in 2017.

“I’m confident that there will be further courts martial after the submission of the final report of the Independent Commission of Enquiry [ICOE] in a few weeks,” the State Counselor said. 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.

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

Earlier Thursday, The Gambia asked the court during its oral arguments how the Tatmadaw could be expected to hold itself accountable for genocidal acts against the Rohingya when six of its top generals, including the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, have all been accused of genocide by the UN Fact-Finding Mission and recommended for criminal prosecution.

“It should come as no surprise, then, that the Tatmadaw has not been willing to investigate, prosecute or punish its own members for crimes against the Rohingya,” said Paul Reichler, one of The Gambia’s lawyers.

Tun Khin, the president of the Burmese Rohingya Organization UK, said that while the Myanmar legal team’s defense was based purely on blanket denials, their Gambian counterparts had effectively pointed out genocidal acts, providing relevant examples to support their argument.

He said atrocities like arbitrary killings and rape by security forces and the exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya did in fact take place.

“That’s why it is important that the ICJ has to impose provisional measures. If Myanmar fails to comply with them, the international community has to put more pressure on it,” he said.

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