THE HAGUE, Netherlands (AP) — The justice minister of Gambia appealed to the U.N.’s top court Tuesday to recognize that genocide against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority took place and to ensure it does not continue, while Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi prepared to defend the actions of her country’s military.
Former pro-democracy icon Suu Kyi watched from the front row as lawyers gave the International Court of Justice detailed accounts of Rohingya men, women and children killed and the destruction of tens of thousands of Muslim minority homes in Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state.
“It is indeed sad for our generation that 75 years after humankind committed itself to the words ‘never again,’ another genocide is unfolding right before our eyes,” Gambian Justice Minister Aboubacarr Tambadou told the court in The Hague . “Yet we do nothing to stop it.”
“This is a stain on our collective conscience, and it will be irresponsible for any of us to simply look the other way and pretend that it is not our business,” he said.
Gambia, a nation in West Africa, filed the case in the world court on behalf of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation.
Myanmar’s military began a harsh counterinsurgency campaign against the Rohingya in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack. More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape what has been called an ethnic cleansing campaign involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.
The head of a U.N. fact-finding mission on Myanmar warned in October that “there is a serious risk of genocide recurring.” The mission also found that Myanmar should be held responsible in international legal forums for alleged genocide against the Rohingya.
Myanmar has strongly denied the charges but says it stands ready to take action against wrongdoers if there is sufficient evidence.
A recent statement on the website of the nation’s Ministry of the Interior said the renewed international pressure was due to a lack of understanding of “the complexities of the issue and the narratives of the people of Myanmar.”
Beyond detailing graphic accounts of rape, mutilation and the killing of children by soldiers, Gambia’s legal team underscored what it alleged was Myanmar’s “ongoing genocidal intent” and the government’s continued incitement of racial hatred.
Gambia asked for provisional measures to prevent “extrajudicial killings or physical abuse; rape or other forms of sexual violence; burning of homes or villages; destruction of lands and livestock, deprivation of food” and other actions “calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”
Suu Kyi, who was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for championing democracy and rights under Myanmar’s then-ruling junta, sat attentively in the front row as Gambia’s representatives made their case. She is leading the Myanmar delegation to The Hague in her capacity as foreign minister.
Scores of Rohingya supporters gathered outside the court behind a banner reading “Stop Genocide.” Some carried photos of Suu Kyi with “Shame” and “agent of the military” written under them.
The International Court of Justice hearing is set for an extraordinary scene on Wednesday, when Suu Kyi – once a global beacon of hope for human rights — is expected to defend the actions of an army that held her under house arrest for years.
A group of seven fellow Nobel Peace Prize winners has called on Suu Kyi “to publicly acknowledge the crimes, including genocide, committed against the Rohingya. We are deeply concerned that instead of condemning these crimes, Aung San Suu Kyi is actively denying that these atrocities even occurred. ”
They wrote in a signed statement ahead of the court hearing, which runs until Thursday, that “Aung San Suu Kyi must be held criminally accountable, along with her army commanders, for crimes committed.”
In Myanmar, hundreds of people have rallied to show their support for her in recent days.
At one rally, around 700 people, including many members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, gathered outside the colonial-era City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city.
As the crowd waved national flags and listened to music and poetry, a popular local singer told them “Mother Suu is the bravest human being in the world — her weapon is love.”