Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi appeared at the United Nation’s International Court of Justice on Tuesday to defend Myanmar’s military junta against charges of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The trial — only the third case of genocide filed at the UN court in the Hague since World War II — was brought by Gambia in November, which accused the Buddhist-majority country of violating its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
In its court petition, Gambia said that from October 2016 “the Myanmar military (the ‘Tatmandaw’) and other Myanmar security forces began widespread and systemic ‘clearance operations’.”
“The genocide acts committed during these operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systemic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses.”
It also listed further “clearance operations” carried out in August 2017.
According to the Save the Children NGO, some 128,000 displaced Rohingya have been confined to camps in the south-eastern Rakhine state since 2012 while more than 740,000 have fled across the border to Bangladesh in the past two years.
The Myanmar authorities have denied carrying out any human rights violations and have blamed separatists for the surge in violence.
Suu Kyi, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for her peaceful campaign for democracy in the country, joined the government in 2016 after her National League for Democracy party won a decisive victory in general elections.
A law on foreign family members prevented her from becoming the official president of the country but she is widely considered the de-facto leader.
Her silence on the violence against the Rohingya community — even after the UN released an independent report condemning the “harsh persecution” of Muslim minorities and “serious violations of human rights” — has drawn heavy criticism, including calls for her to be stripped of her Nobel prize.
This week’s proceedings before a panel of 17 judges will not deal with the core allegation of genocide, but Gambia has requested a court order for Myanmar to halt any activity that may aggravate the dispute.
The tribunal, also known as the World Court, has no enforcement powers, but its rulings are final and have significant legal weight.