THE HAGUE - A lawyer presenting Gambia's case accusing Myanmar of committing genocide against Rohingya Muslims said Thursday that Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi ignored allegations of mass killings and rape as she led her country's defense before the U.N.'s top court.
Paul Reichler told the International Court of Justice in The Hague Myanmar was choosing to ignore the alleged sexual violence because "it is undeniable and unspeakable."
Aung San Suu Kyi told the court Wednesday the mass exodus of the Rohingya minority stemmed from "an internal conflict started by coordinated and comprehensive armed attacks."
She said that "Myanmar's defense services responded" to the attacks, creating an armed conflict "that led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims."
Appearing before the court in her official role as Myanmar's foreign minister, the Nobel Peace laureate reiterated her government's claim that the military was targeting Rohingya militants who had attacked security posts in western Rakhine state in August 2017.
Myanmar's military launched a scorched earth campaign in response to the attacks, forcing more than 700,000 Rohingyas to flee into neighboring Bangladesh. A U.N. investigation concluded the campaign was carried out "with genocidal intent," based on interviews with survivors who gave numerous accounts of massacres, extrajudicial killings, gang rapes and the torching of entire villages.
The case against Myanmar was brought to the IJC by the small West African nation Gambia on behalf of the 57-member Organization for Islamic Cooperation. Lawyers for Gambia recounted numerous acts of atrocities committed by Myanmar's military during the crackdown during Tuesday's opening session.
Aung San Suu Kyi called the allegations made by Gambia "misleading" during her opening statement.
Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou told reporters Tuesday he wants the IJC to order special measures to protect the Rohingyas until the genocide case is heard in full.
"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," Tambadou said.
Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her pro-democracy stand against Myanmar's then-ruling military junta, which placed her under house arrest for 15 years until finally freeing her in 2010. But her defense of the military's actions against the Rohingyas has wrecked her reputation among the international community as an icon of democracy and human rights.
The Rohingya were excluded from a 1982 citizenship law that bases full legal status through membership in a government-recognized indigenous group. The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, effectively rendering 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.