THE HAGUE (Reuters) - Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi called on World Court judges on Thursday to dismiss an accusation of genocide against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority, saying its own justice system should be given the chance to work first.
Gambia has accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention in a military campaign that expelled more than 730,000 Rohingya from Myanmar and it has asked the International Court of Justice to order “provisional measures” to prevent more harm.
But Suu Kyi, who has denied genocide, said the U.N. court should not have jurisdiction.
“Myanmar requests the court to remove the case from its list,” Suu Kyi said on the third and final day of hearings in The Hague. “In the alternative (the court should) reject the request for provisional measures submitted by the Gambia.”
Presiding Judge Abdulqawi Yusuf said the 17-judge panel would render an order “as soon as possible”, but gave no specific date.
Gambia insisted earlier that Myanmar could not be trusted to hold its soldiers accountable for alleged atrocities against its Rohingya minority, dismissing calls from Suu Kyi for the court to wait for the outcome of accountability efforts and local trials.
Gambia lawyer Paul Reichler said Myanmar had not even tried during the hearings to deny most of the accusations of extreme violence against its military, known as the Tatmadaw, nor of the mass deportation of Rohingya following a 2017 crackdown.
Statements from Myanmar that it was taking action to prosecute soldiers accused of wrongdoing were not credible, he said.
“How can anyone possibly expect the Tatmadaw to hold itself accountable for genocidal acts against the Rohingya, when six of its top generals including the commander-in-chief, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, have all been accused of genocide by the U.N. fact-finding mission and recommended for criminal prosecution,” he said.
He was referring to the findings of U.N. investigators who in an August 2018 report said the Myanmar military had carried out killings and mass rape with “genocidal intent” in the 2017 operation. Gambia’s legal team had outlined graphic testimony from their report at the first day of hearings on Tuesday.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to Bangladesh after the military launched its crackdown. The U.N. investigators have said 10,000 people may have been killed.
Suu Kyi, once championed in the West for her decades-long fight for democracy for Myanmar, told the court on Wednesday the military-led “clearance operation” in western Rakhine State was a counterterrorism response to coordinated Rohingya militant attacks against dozens of police stations in August 2017.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate argued Myanmar did investigate and prosecute soldiers and officers accused of crimes. She said that under those circumstances, the court should not intervene.
“Steps that generate suspicion, sow doubts, or create resentment between communities who have just begun to build a fragile foundation of trust could undermine reconciliation,” she said in closing remarks.
She added that even if there had been violations of humanitarian law during the conflict, they did not rise to the level of genocide.
Outside the ornate Peace Palace in The Hague that houses the court, protesters from both sides lined up on Thursday. When Suu Kyi returned to court for the final statements her supporters cheered loudly.
They sang the national anthem and shouted “Mother Suu, Be healthy”.
Maung Maung Aye, a well-known presenter in Myanmar, traveled from Yangon to support Suu Kyi.
“She always is for Myanmar so we are always ready to support her whatever she does,” he told Reuters.
The International Court of Justice is the U.N.’s highest court. Its decisions are binding and not subject to appeal, though it has no means of enforcement and countries have occasionally ignored them or failed to fully adhere.
After the decision on provisional measures, the process may continue to a full case that could last years.
Rohingya Muslims in camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh were praying that the suit succeeds.
Nurul Haq, 54, who said he fled to Bangladesh after his son was shot dead by the army, said he was fasting on Thursday.
“The speech Aung San Suu Kyi has given in the court is absolutely lies, all lies, all lies,” he said. “They tortured us so much... Only justice can heal our wounds.”
Reporting by Bart Meijer, Stephanie van den Berg and Shoon Naing; Additional reporting by Anthony Deutsch in The Hague, Ruma Paul in Cox's Bazar and Thu Thu Aung in Yangon; Writing by Toby Sterling; Editing by Alex Richardson and Nick Macfie