Myanmar Supporters Travel From Near and Far to Show Solidarity With State Counselor in The Hague

By Kyaw Phyo Tha 11 December 2019

THE HAGUE, Netherlands—Some took flights of a few hours. Others crossed borders on overnight buses. A few flew in from countries as far away as Australia and Myanmar.

Their destination: The Hague.

When the Myanmar government announced that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would lead the legal team defending the country against a lawsuit filed by The Gambia at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against the Rohingya, her supporters across the country reacted swiftly. They organized public rallies in cities, many holding aloft banners reading, “We Stand With Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.” More gatherings are scheduled to be held in many places to coincide with her appearance at public hearings at the ICJ on Dec. 11 and 12.

And the World Court’s host city is no exception. Hundreds of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters living both in and outside Europe are heading to The Hague to show solidarity with her, especially when she appears for the court hearings.

“We expect nearly 300 people will join us,” said Ko Moe Kyaw, one of the leading organizers of the “We Stand With Aung San Suu Kyi” rally in the Netherlands organized to offer moral support to the Myanmar State Counselor during her stay in The Hague.

He said most of the supporters are Myanmar people either living or studying in European countries like the UK, Germany, Italy, Denmark and others, while a few had traveled from as far away as Australia.

The rallies on Wednesday and Thursday were also set to be joined by more than two dozen of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi supporters flying in from Myanmar especially for the ICJ case, in order to show moral support for their leader.

According to a statement issued by organizers, the objectives of the rallies are to support the State Counselor in her courageous decision to attend the hearing and defend the interests of Myanmar and its citizens, and to inform European countries that Myanmar still has a long way to go on the path to genuine democracy, and is in need of active support to achieve that goal.

Ko Moe Kyaw said the government’s statement announcing Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s intention to travel to The Hague prompted him to organize the rally with like-minded people.

“Actually, I didn’t expect her to come,” he said.

While she has earned cheers from her supporters for her ICJ appearance, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticized internationally due to expectations that she will use the court appearance to defend the Myanmar military, which has been accused of using excessive force during clearance operations against Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army insurgents in northern Rakhine State in 2017. The crackdown prompted an exodus of more than 700,000 Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. UN investigators said the operations had “genocidal intent”. Both the Myanmar government and military have denied the accusations.

The organizer said he didn’t believe the State Counselor had traveled to the court on behalf of any particular group.

“She is doing it for the country, as a good leader. Even ordinary people these days don’t accept human rights violations; do you think she would accept them? I think she is just trying to discover the root cause of the problem. There may be [another] reason behind her appearance,” he said.

Originally proposed by members of the Netherlands’ Myanmar community, plans for the rally quickly drew the attention of Myanmar people elsewhere who were eager to join. When they learned that more Myanmar people planned to come to The Hague to support Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, some Myanmar residents of Amsterdam and Rotterdam opened their homes to their countrymen and women, welcoming more than 60 supporters to stay with them, according to Ma Poe Phyu Thant in London, who has been working closely with the rally organizers in the Netherlands to assist supporters arriving from other countries.

“One Myanmar man gave us his apartment key, as he will be away at the time. His flat is large enough for six people and fully stocked with food,” she said.

For some supporters, their shows of faith in Daw Aung San Suu Kyi at the rallies on Dec. 11 and 12 are being made at some sacrifice to themselves. Those who are workers have had to take leave from their jobs, as both are working days. For students like Ma Lei Hnin Soe, who is doing her master’s in Public Health at Lund University in Sweden, being in The Hague has meant skipping classes. The 31-year-old said she would miss a whole day’s worth of lectures on Dec. 12 in order to join the rally.

“While she is defending the country with responsibility and accountability as the leader, I simply believe, as a Myanmar citizen, that I should stand with her,” said Ma Lei Hnin Soe, who is studying in a Swedish government scholarship program.

The rallies on Wednesday and Thursday were also set to be joined by more than two dozen of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi supporters flying in from Myanmar especially for the ICJ case, in order to show moral support for their leader.

Ma Poe Phyu Thant said she would prefer that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi had not traveled to The Hague, mostly for security reasons, pointing out that the trip is not a state visit.

“What if something bad happens? Our only hope for the country would be gone,” she said.

But when she learned Daw Aung San Suu Kyi was in fact making the trip, her only thought was about what she could do for the woman she admires.

“I could show I still believe in her. That’s why I will join the rally in The Hague,” Ma Poe Phyu Thant said.

But Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s supporters are not the only ones who have traveled to The Hague. As The Gambia’s legal team was making its first oral arguments on Tuesday, a group of Rohingya and their supporters gathered outside the ICJ shouting slogans like, “Burmese government down, down!” and “Aung San Suu Kyi shame on you!” The protest is expected to resume Wednesday when Myanmar presents its counter-argument.

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