Aung San Suu Kyi faces Rohingya genocide charge at United Nations court

Aung San Suu Kyi faces Rohingya genocide charge at United Nations court

Demonstrators hold signs outside the International Court of Justice where Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi attended the first day of three days of hearings in The Hague, Netherlands, Tuesday, Dec. 10, 2019. It would hold the hearings in a case filed by the Gambia concerning the application of the 1948 Genocide Convention. In that case, the ICJ issued an order several weeks later, on April 8, 1993.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and former longtime political prisoner, was once viewed globally as a champion of democracy and human rights. As a populist facing reelection next year, her trip to The Hague appeals to growing ethno-nationalist sentiment in Myanmar, which was known as Burma under British colonial rule.

The delegation has some civil society members, too and they will have meetings with stakeholders and observe the hearing.

"It's been extremely busy this morning", said one official from the court.

Worldwide rights groups and Rohingya survivor groups based in Europe are likely to stage demonstrations in the Dutch city seeking trial for atrocity crimes committed by the Myanmar military.

Aye Lwin from Yangon's Islamic Centre of Myanmar said he thought Ms Suu Kyi was doing the right thing by personally assuming responsibility and going to The Hague, where the full breadth of atrocities committed will be laid bare.

While the court has no enforcement mechanism should it find Burma guilty of the atrocities, it could ramp up pressure on other countries to take a stronger stance against the tiny southeast Asian country.

ICJ judges work independently of any government and before taking up their duties, must solemnly declare in open court that they will "exercise their powers impartially and conscientiously".

The ICJ is composed of 15 judges elected for a nine-year term by the General Assembly and the Security Council of the UN.

"The genocidal acts committed during these operations were meant 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 systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses".

On 11 November, Gambia initiated proceedings against Myanmar before the ICJ on the latter's alleged violation of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide.

Gambia is requesting that provisional measures be taken 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 necessities of life, or any other deliberate infliction of conditions of life calculated to bring about the physical destruction of the Rohingya group in whole or in part".

The hearing now ongoing in The Hague at the International Courts of Justice was brought forward by The Gambia, a small Muslim majority country in West Africa, in hopes for temporary measures to protect the Rohingya.

"We're confident the court will urgently and appropriately respond to the situation", said Matthew Smith, Chief Executive Officer at Fortify Rights.

"We hope that ICJ will deliver the verdict that will reflect the hope of hundreds of thousands of persecuted Rohingya people", RSO president Mohammed Ayyub Khan told Anadolu Agency.

His political ambitions could be damaged by the sanctions, as well as an earlier USA travel ban and Facebook's decision in August 2018 to remove the army chief's page that had been his main channel of communication with the public. The case will also be watched in Bangladesh, where around 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee into sprawling camps by the bloody campaign in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state.

Indeed, the original statement issued by her office last month via Facebook, which said that Suu Kyi's appearance was created to "defend the national interest of Myanmar at the ICJ", captures the essence of this sentiment, and it is one that has been echoed in some of the rallies we have seen over the past week.

Myanmar's authorities - and the majority Buddhist population - consider the Rohingya to be undocumented immigrants from Bangladesh.

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