World

Myanmar's accusers slam Nobel laureate Suu Kyi for genocide defence

Lawyers seeking to halt what they allege is an ongoing genocide in Myanmar have slammed Aung San Suu Kyi's defence of her country's armed forces, saying Thursday the fallen pro-democracy icon chose to ignore "unspeakable" acts committed against civilians.

'We heard nothing about sexual violence from Myanmar yesterday,' lawyer says

This 2017 image captured by journalist Wa Lone, who spent more than 500 days in prison in Myanmar after being arrested for his work on the Rohingya crisis, shows a Rohingya Muslim woman waiting to cross into Bangladesh. (Wa Lone/Reuters)

Lawyers seeking to halt what they allege is an ongoing genocide in Myanmar have slammed Aung San Suu Kyi's defence of her country's armed forces, saying Thursday the fallen pro-democracy icon chose to ignore "unspeakable" acts committed against civilians.

Acting on behalf of a large group of Muslim nations, Gambia requested emergency legal proceedings at the UN's top court to recognize that Myanmar's armed forces committed genocide against the Rohingya minority in 2017 and violations continue.

With maps, satellite imagery and graphic photos, Myanmar's accusers have detailed what they insist is a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide — including the killing of civilians, raping of women and torching of houses — that saw more than 700,000 Rohingya flee to neighbouring Bangladesh.

Gambia wants the International Court of Justice to take "all measures within its power to prevent all acts that amount to or contribute to the crime of genocide."

The hearings have seen the astonishing spectacle of the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize laureate defending the very army that ordered her kept under house arrest for some 15 years.

"There is no reasonable conclusion to draw other than the inference of genocidal intent from the state's pattern of conduct," lawyer Paul Reicher told the court, based in The Hague.

Aerial view of burned-down villages once inhabited by the Rohingya, as seen from the Myanmar military helicopters that carried the UN envoys to northern Rakhine state in Myanmar on May 1, 2018. (Michelle Nichols/Reuters)

"We heard nothing about sexual violence from Myanmar yesterday, not a single word about it," Reicher said. "Because it is undeniable and unspeakable, they chose to ignore it completely. I can't really blame them. I would hate having to be the one to defend it."

On Wednesday, Suu Kyi said the allegations against the army stem from "an internal armed conflict started by co-ordinated and comprehensive armed attacks ... to which Myanmar's defence services responded. Tragically, this armed conflict led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims."


CBC's Nahlah Ayed and Stephanie Jenzer travelled to Bangladesh in 2017 and Myanmar in 2018. Read some of their coverage here: 


She said Gambia's representatives had painted "an incomplete and misleading factual picture" of what happened in Myanmar's northern Rakhine state in August 2017.

Reicher argued otherwise, saying: "There is no reasonable conclusion to draw other than the inference of genocidal intent from the state's pattern of conduct."

Referring to a UN fact-finding mission's report on military "clearance operations," Reicher said "everyone was a target and no one was spared. Mothers, infants, pregnant women, the old and infirm. They all fell victim to this ruthless campaign."

He also refuted Myanmar's claims that no mass graves were found.

"To be sure, Myanmar has not made it easier to find them" by denying access to suspect sites, Reicher said. "Nevertheless, The Associated Press located at least five mass graves of Rohingyas."

The AP reported the mass graves in the village of Gu Dar Pyin were confirmed through multiple interviews with more than two dozen survivors who had fled to refugee camps in Bangladesh, and through time-stamped cellphone videos. Satellite images and video of destroyed homes also showed the village had been wiped out.

Aung San Suu Kyi is expected to take the stand Thursday, which is the last day of a three-day hearing on the Rohingya genocide case before the UN International Court of Justice. (Sem Van Der Wal/ANP/AFP/Getty Images)

The Myanmar government's information committee said later that 17 government officials, including Border Guard Police, went to Gu Dar Pyin to investigate the AP report, and were told by villagers and community leaders that "no such things happened."

According to the government statement, a group of Rohingya "terrorists" skirmished with security forces in the village during "clearance operations" by the military. It said about 500 villagers attacked the security forces with weapons such as knives, sticks and wooden spears, and the security forces were forced to shoot in self-defence.

Suu Kyi was expected to take the stand later Thursday for final remarks before the hearing concludes. The court will likely issue a decision on Gambia's request for provisional measures relatively quickly, but the main case will probably take years to resolve.

Suu Kyi was stripped of her honorary Canadian citizenship in 2018.

Bob Rae, Canada's special envoy to Myanmar, said in an interview with CBC News Network on Wednesday that Myanmar's claims it would deal with allegations of wrongdoing by the military internally were not credible.

WATCH: See Bob Rae's full interview about the case and what he has seen as special envoy.

Bob Rae says Rohingya need protection now

3 years ago
Duration 8:31
Canada's special envoy to Myanmar describes what he's seen and says the UN's top court must use its power to order some protection.

Comments

To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversation  Create account

Already have an account?

now