Myanmar’s leader and Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi will head a delegation to the United Nations’ top court to argue against a case accusing the mainly Buddhist country of genocide against the Rohingya, the government said.
More than 730,000 Rohingya, most of them Muslims, fled to neighbouring Bangladesh following a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military, which UN investigators said was carried out with “genocidal intent”.
The Buddhist-majority country has repeatedly justified the crackdown on the Rohingya as necessary to stamp out fighters. It also insists its own committees are adequate to investigate allegations of abuse.
The Gambia, a tiny mainly-Muslim West African nation, lodged its lawsuit after winning the support of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation (OIC), which has 57 member states.
Only a state can file a case against another state at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The case will be the first international legal attempt to bring Myanmar to justice over the Rohingya crisis, and is a rare example of a country suing another over an issue to which it is not directly a party.
The ICJ has said it will hold the first public hearings in the case from December 10-12.
“Myanmar has retained prominent international lawyers to contest the case submitted by Gambia,” the ministry for state counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi‘s office said in a Facebook post.
“The State Counselor, in her capacity as Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, will lead a team to the Hague, Netherlands, to defend the national interest of Myanmar at the ICJ,” it said, giving no further details.
A spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi‘s party, the National League for Democracy, said she had decided to take on the case herself.
“They accused that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi didn’t speak out about violations against human rights,” spokesman Myo Nyunt said.
“And they accused that she didn’t try to stop human rights violations. She decided to face that lawsuit by herself.”
Both The Gambia and Myanmar are signatories to the 1948 Genocide Convention, which not only prohibits states from committing genocide but also compels all signatory states to prevent and punish the crime of genocide.
Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center, noted that Myanmar’s civilian government had failed to act in 2017 and taken no steps to hold the military to account.
“Now, they are going to defend the military and the government’s genocidal actions on one of the world’s largest and most influential stages,” Radhakrishnan said in a statement. “The international community should no longer have illusions where Suu Kyi and the civilian government stand and must act to support The Gambia and take other measures to hold Myanmar accountable.”
The ICJ was set up in 1946 after the second world war to adjudicate in disputes between UN member states.
The International Criminal Court – another Hague-based court set up in 2002 to probe war crimes – last week authorised its chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation into the persecution of the Rohingya while a criminal complaint was filed in Argentina naming Aung San Suu Kyi.
Myanmar has rejected the ICC probe, as well.
Al Jazeera and news agencies