Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh recounted atrocities by Naypyidaw’s military as they debunked denials by Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday at the U.N.’s top court that her government’s security forces had committed genocide against the minority Muslims.
Suu Kyi told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague that the charges of genocide leveled by the tiny West African nation of Gambia against Myanmar provided a “misleading and incomplete” representation of events that led to an exodus of about 740,000 Rohingya into neighboring Bangladesh two years ago.
“Regrettably, Gambia has placed before the court a misleading and incomplete picture of the situation in Rakhine state,” Suu Kyi, who was once celebrated worldwide as a champion for human rights, told the court. She underscored that her government was confronting an “internal armed conflict” in 2017 when the Myanmar military launched a counter-offensive against local insurgents.
Suu Kyi’s statement that “some” people crossed into Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in fear infuriated dozens of Rohingya refugees who watched the Myanmar leader make her case live on TV from a tea stall at the Kutupalong refugee camp.
“We reject her statement that we crossed into Bangladesh in fear. She tells the lies to appease the military and Moghs,” Abdul Karim, a Rohingya in his 60s, told BenarNews after watching the TV coverage, using a derogatory term that refers to Rakhine Buddhists.
“The military killed my brother and his wife in late Aug 2017. They were shot at from behind when we headed toward the Bangladesh border. They [Myanmar soldiers] shouted ‘go, go’ while firing at us,” said Karim who hailed from Maungdaw town in Rakhine state.
On the second day of the proceedings at the ICJ trial against Myanmar, Suu Kyi rejected Gambia’s allegation that her country’s military operations on August 2017 were mounted to exterminate the Rohingya Muslims. Instead, she said, the crackdown was targeted at the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), an insurgent group.
But in Cox’s Bazar, refugees at the Kutupalong camp shouted “Lies! Lies!” as Suu Kyi spoke.
“In late August 2017, the military personnel dragged my daughter to a nearby jungle and gang-raped her before leaving her in critical condition,” Ayesha, a resident of another village in Maungdaw, told BenarNews. “We found her and took her to Bangladesh for treatment.”
Gambia, backed by 57 members of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), alleges that Myanmar’s counter-offensives were “intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part” through mass murder, rape and the burning of Rohingya homes.
For now, Gambia was just asking the court to impose “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya in Myanmar and elsewhere from additional threats or violence. A guilty ruling, which will be legally binding, could lead to sanctions and would cause significant reputational and economic damage to Naypyidaw.
The charge is not a criminal case against individual alleged perpetrators but is a “state-to-state” litigation between U.N. member states governed by legal provisions in the world body’s charter, according to Human Rights Watch.
Suu Kyi said security forces tried to reduce “collateral damage” in 12 locations as she admitted that a helicopter may have killed “non-combatants” but her government had launched its own probe.
“It cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defense services,” she said, emphasizing that “surely, under the circumstances genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.”
In a rare court-martial case in 2018, a Myanmar military court sentenced seven soldiers to 10-year prison terms for killing a group of Rohingya amid the larger crackdown. The military opened a second court-martial in late November to try soldiers accused of committing atrocities near another Rohingya village in Rakhine state.
‘Full of lies and counter allegations’
Tareque Shamsur Rahman, a professor at Bangladesh’s Jahangirnagar University, described Suu Kyi’s presentation at the ICJ as “full of lies and counter allegations.”
“She has basically shielded the military and the vigilante Buddhists who went to every Rohingya village and killed innocent people of all ages with genocidal intent,” he told BenarNews.
“All international investigation reports, including the U.N.’s, clearly state that the Myanmar military had genocidal intent,” Rahman said. “Satellite images would prove that Myanmar’s security forces completely burned down Rohingya villages.”
Bangladesh Foreign Minister Abdul Momen told reporters he felt sorry that Suu Kyi defended the military.
“She had been an icon of democracy. I took part in demonstrations demanding her release from prison. But she has degraded her position,” Momen said Wednesday following his meeting with U.S. Ambassador Earl R. Miller at the foreign ministry.
Suu Kyi, a former Nobel laureate was appearing Wednesday before a 17-judge ICJ bench to argue in support of the same entrenched military that had snatched her freedom and kept her under house arrest for several years before she became Myanmar’s state counsellor – a title similar to prime minister – after the country’s 2015 national elections, analysts said.
Retired Col. Faruk Khan, chairman of the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, told BenarNews he was also saddened to see Suu Kyi defending the Myanmar military at the court made up of judges from around the world. He noted that she might have gone to The Hague “with a political purpose.”
“The military and the hardline Buddhists have [always] been the deciding factors in the elections in Myanmar. The next elections in Myanmar will take place in 2020,” he said. “So, she goes to The Hague to win support of the two groups.”