THE HAGUE — Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi responded at the International Court of Justice in The Hague on Wednesday to a suit brought by Gambia alleging her country committed genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority.
Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fled to Bangladesh following a military crackdown in 2017, and U.N. investigators estimated 10,000 may have been killed.
Here are key quotes from the opening remarks to the court by Suu Kyi, a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. She argued that no genocide was committed under definitions of international law during what she described as an “internal conflict.” She said the top U.N. court, referred to as the World Court, has no jurisdiction in the case.
“The Applicant has brought a case based on the Genocide Convention. We are, however, dealing with an internal armed conflict, started by coordinated and comprehensive attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), to which Myanmar’s defense services responded.”
“Tragically, this armed conflict led to the exodus of several hundred thousand Muslims from the three northernmost townships of Rakhine into Bangladesh.”
“Please bear in mind this complex situation and the challenge to sovereignty and security in our country when you’re assessing the intent of those who attempted to deal with the rebellion. Under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.”
“If war crimes have been committed by members of Myanmar military services, they will be prosecuted through our military justice system, in accordance with Myanmar’s constitution.”
She noted that international law only gives international courts power to intervene when a country fails to prosecute crimes itself.
“No stone should be unturned to make domestic accountability work. It would not be helpful for the international legal order if the impression takes hold that only resource-rich countries can conduct adequate domestic investigations and prosecutions.”
She argued that given that Myanmar’s conflict was internal, even if human rights law were violated, “such conduct, if proven, could be relevant under international humanitarian law or human rights conventions, but not under the 1948 Genocide Convention.”
“Can there be genocidal intent on the part of a state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers that are accused of wrongdoing?”
“It is never easy for armed forces to recognize self-interest in accountability for their members. I respectfully invite the members of the court for the moment to consider the record of other countries. This is a common challenge, even in the prosperous countries.”
“All of the focus here is on members of the military. I can assure you that appropriate action will also be taken against civilian offenders in line with due process. There will be no tolerance of human rights violations in the Rakhine, or elsewhere in Myanmar.”
She described steps being taken to improve rights of the Rohingya, often demeaned by the Buddhist majority as foreign immigrants, including granting them birth certificates in Myanmar and allowing them to attend school.
“How can there be an ongoing genocide or genocidal intent when these concrete steps are being taken in Rakhine?”
“We pray the Court to refrain from taking any action that might aggravate the ongoing armed conflict and peace and security in Rakhine.” (Reporting by Shoon Naing and Toby Sterling in The Hague; Editing by Alex Richardson)