Myanmar’s Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday denied that her country’s armed forces committed genocide against the Rohingya minority. She told the U.N.’s top court that the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Muslims was the unfortunate result of a battle with insurgents.
In a measured tone, Suu Kyi calmly refuted allegations that the army had killed civilians, raped women and torched houses in 2017.In what Myanmar’s accusers describe as a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide. The alleged campaign saw more than 700,00 Rohingya flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
She said the allegations stem from “an internal armed conflict started by coordinated and comprehensive armed attacks. To which Myanmar’s defense services responded. Tragically, this armed conflict led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims, she said.
Her appearance at the International Court of Justice was striking in that Suu Kyi was defending the very armed forces that had kept her under house arrest for about 15 years. She was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia for championing democracy and rights under Myanmar’s then-ruling junta.
Supporters gathered Wednesday outside The Hague-based court
Suu Kyi said the court had an incomplete and misleading picture of what happened in Myanmar in August 2017.
The court alleges that genocide was committed and is still ongoing.
Suu Kyi said developments in one of Myanmar’s poorest regions are “complex and not easy to fathom.” She detailed how the army responded on Aug. 25, 2017, to attacks by insurgents trained by extremists.
Myanmar Army tried to reduce collateral damage
Addressing the court Suu Kyi insisted that the country’s armed forces had tried “to reduce collateral damage” during fighting in 12 locations. Excessive force may have been used and one helicopter may have killed “non-combatants,” Suu Kyi said. She also said Myanmar is investigating into what happened and should be allowed to finish its work.
“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively prosecutes people who are accused of wrongdoing?” she asked the court.
Suu Kyi and Myanmar’s legal team argued that the genocide convention does not apply to Myanmar. They invoked Croatia during the Balkans wars in the 1990s. Saying that no genocide was deemed there when thousands of people were forced from their homes because of fighting.
On Tuesday, the U.S. slapped economic sanctions on four Myanmar military officers. They are suspected of human rights violations. It sanctioned Min Aung Hlaing, commander of Myanmar’s armed forces, over allegations of serious rights abuses. Deputy commander Soe Win and two other military leaders, Than Oo and Aung Aung, were also targeted.
“There are credible claims of mass rape and violence committed by soldiers under Hlaing’s command,” a U.S. statement said.
The court’s hearings on Myanmar are due to end Thursday, the Associated Press reported.