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    Myanmar Rohingya: Suu Kyi rejects genocide claims in UN court

    December 11, 2019

    Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been defending her country against allegations of genocide at the UN International Court of Justice (ICJ).The Nobel Peace Prize laureate is responding to widespread claims that Myanmar (formerly Burma) committed atrocities against Muslim Rohingya.In her opening remarks, she called the case against Myanmar "incomplete and incorrect".She said troubles in Rakhine, where many Rohingya lived, go back centuries.Thousands of Rohingya were killed and more than 700,000 fled to neighbouring Bangladesh during an army crackdown in Buddhist-majority Myanmar in 2017.Myanmar has always insisted it was tackling an extremist threat in Rakhine state, and Ms Suu Kyi maintained that stance, calling the violence an "internal armed conflict triggered by attacks on police posts".Conceding that Myanmar's military may have used disproportionate forces at times, she said that if soldiers had committed war crimes "they will be prosecuted".Ms Suu Kyi has been de facto leader of Myanmar since April 2016, before the alleged genocide began. She does not have control over the army but has been accused by the UN investigator of "complicity" in the military She said Myanmar was committed to the safe repatriation of people displaced from Rakhine, and urged the court to avoid any action that could aggravate the conflict.The ICJ is the UN's top court, and cases must be submitted to it by countries.This one has been brought by The Gambia, a small Muslim-majority west African nation, on behalf of dozens of other Muslim countries.
    The ICJ is the top court of the UN but has no way of forcing countries to abide by its rulings"All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings, to stop these acts of barbarity that continue to shock our collective conscience, to stop this genocide of its own people," The Gambia's Attorney General and Justice Minister, Abubacarr M Tambadou, told the court.His country acted after he visited a Rohingya refugee camp in Bangladesh and heard of killings, rape and torture, he told the BBC in October.At the initial three-day hearing, The Gambia is asking the ICJ in The Hague to approve temporary measures to protect the Rohingya. But a final ruling on genocide may be years away.
    At the start of 2017, there were one million Rohingya in Myanmar, most living in Rakhine state.But Myanmar, a mainly Buddhist country, considers them illegal immigrants and denies them citizenship.The Rohingya have long complained of persecution, and in 2017 the military - the Tatmadaw - launched a massive military operation in Rakhine.According to The Gambia's submission to the ICJ, the military stands accused of "widespread and systematic clearance operations" against the Rohingya, beginning in October 2016 and expanding in August 2017.
    Ms Suu Kyi did not speak on the first day of the hearing The Gambia's petition alleges that the clearances were "intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part", via mass murder, rape and setting fire to their buildings "often with inhabitants locked inside".A UN fact-finding mission which investigated the allegations found such compelling evidence that it said the Burmese army must be investigated for genocide against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine.In August, a report accused Myanmar soldiers of "routinely and systematically employing rape, gang rape and other violent and forced sexual acts against women, girls, boys, men and transgender people".In May, seven Myanmar soldiers jailed for killing 10 Rohingya men and boys were released early from prison. Myanmar says its military operations targeted Rohingya militants, and the military has previously cleared itself of wrongdoing.
    The case is being brought against Myanmar, not Aung San Suu Kyi.The ICJ cannot punish individuals in the way that, for example, the International Criminal Court can (separately, the ICC is investigating the Rohingya case).But the case is, to some extent, about the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner herself.How did this peace icon end up at a genocide trial?"I implore you to open your eyes... and please use your moral authority, before it is too late," the investigator, Yanghee Lee, said in September.Ms Suu Kyi confirmed in November that she would personally lead her country's defence at The Hague - in her role as foreign affairs minister - alongside "prominent international lawyers".What is the likely outcome of this case?For now, The Gambia is just asking the court to impose "provisional measures" to protect the Rohingya in Myanmar and elsewhere from further threats or violence. These will be legally binding.To rule that Myanmar has committed genocide, the court will have to determine that the state acted "with intent to destroy in whole or in part" the Rohingya minority.
    Aung San Suu Kyi remains hugely popular with many people in MyanmarEven then the ICJ has no way of enforcing the outcome - and neither Aung San Suu Kyi nor the generals would automatically be arrested and put on trial.But a guilty ruling could lead to sanctions, and would cause significant reputational and economic damage to Myanmar.What is the current situation for the Rohingya?Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have fled Myanmar since the military operations began.
    Jonathan Head visits the Hla Poe Kaung transit camp, which is built on the site of two demolished Rohingya villagesAs of 30 September, there were 915,000 Rohingya refugees in camps in Bangladesh. Almost 80% arrived between August and December 2017, and in March this year, Bangladesh said it would accept no more.In August, Bangladesh set up a voluntary return scheme - but not a single Rohingya chose to go.Bangladesh plans to relocate 100,000 refugees to Bhasan Char, a small island in the Bay of Bengal, but some 39 aid agencies and human rights groups have opposed the idea.In September, the BBC's Jonathan Head reported that police barracks, government buildings and refugee relocation camps had been built on the sites of former Rohingya villages in Myanmar.
    The democracy icon who fell from grace
    Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised by many former allies and friends She was once seen as a beacon for universal human rights - a principled activist willing to give up her freedom to stand up to the ruthless generals who ruled Myanmar for decades.In 1991, "The Lady", as Aung San Suu Kyi is known, was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, and the committee chairman called her "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless".But since becoming Myanmar's de facto leader in 2016 after a democratic opening up, Ms Suu Kyi has been rounded on by the same international leaders and activists who once supported her.Outraged by the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar into neighbouring Bangladesh due to an army crackdown, they have accused her of doing nothing to stop rape, murder and possible genocide by refusing to condemn the powerful military or acknowledge accounts of atrocities.Her few remaining international supporters counter that she is a pragmatic politician trying to govern a multi-ethnic country with a complex history and a Buddhist majority that holds little sympathy for the Rohingya.They also point out the military still retains serious political power and will not relinquish control of the security forces.But critics say she has lost moral standing - and certainly her towering reputation as someone willing to stand up for human rights despite the personal cost.
    Ms Suu Kyi, now 73, spent much of her time between 1989 and 2010 in some form of detention because of her efforts to bring democracy to then military-ruled Myanmar (also known as Burma) - a fact that made her an international symbol of peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.She led the National League for Democracy (NLD) to a majority win in Myanmar's first openly contested election 25 years in November 2015.The win came five years to the day since she was released from 15 years of house arrest.
    The Obama administration lifted sanctions on Myanmar in return for democratic reformsAlthough the Myanmar constitution forbids her from becoming president because she has children who are foreign nationals, Ms Suu Kyi is widely seen as de facto leader.Her official title is state counsellor. The president, Win Myint, is a close aide.
    Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, General Aung San.He was assassinated during the transition period in July 1947, just six months before independence, when Ms Suu Kyi was only two.In 1960 she went to India with her mother Daw Khin Kyi, who had been appointed Myanmar's ambassador in Delhi.Four years later she went to Oxford University in the UK, where she studied philosophy, politics and economics. There she met her future husband, academic Michael Aris.After stints of living and working in Japan and Bhutan, she settled in the UK to raise their two children, Alexander and Kim, but Myanmar was never far from her thoughts.Aung San Suu Kyi with Michael Aris and son Alexander in London in 1973 When she arrived back in Rangoon (now Yangon) in 1988 - to look after her critically ill mother - Myanmar was in the midst of major political upheaval.Thousands of students, office workers and monks took to the streets demanding democratic reform."I could not as my father's daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on," she said in a speech in Rangoon on 26 August 1988, and was propelled into leading the revolt against the then-dictator, General Ne Win.Inspired by the non-violent campaigns of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King and India's Mahatma Gandhi, she organised rallies and travelled around the country, calling for peaceful democratic reform and free elections.But the demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the army, who seized power in a coup on 18 September 1988. Ms Suu Kyi was placed under house arrest the following year.The military government called national elections in May 1990 which Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD convincingly won - but the junta refused to hand over control.
    Ms Suu Kyi remained under house arrest in Rangoon for six years, until she was released in July 1995.She was again put under house arrest in September 2000, when she tried to travel to the city of Mandalay in defiance of travel restrictions.She was released unconditionally in May 2002, but just over a year later she was imprisoned after a clash between her supporters and a government-backed mob.Huge crowds greeting Aung San Suu Kyi on her release from house arrest in 2010She was later allowed to return home - but again under effective house arrest.

    At times she was able to meet other NLD officials and selected diplomats, but during the early years she was often in solitary confinement. She was not allowed to see her two sons or her husband, who died of cancer in March 1999.

    The military authorities had offered to allow her to travel to the UK to see him when he was gravely ill, but she felt compelled to refuse for fear she would not be allowed back into the country.

    Re-entering politics
    Ms Suu Kyi was sidelined from Myanmar's first elections in two decades on 7 November 2010 but released from house arrest six days later. Her son Kim Aris was allowed to visit her for the first time in a decade.As the new government embarked on a process of reform, Aung San Suu Kyi and her party rejoined the political process.When by-elections were held in April 2012, to fill seats vacated by politicians who had taken government posts, she and her party contested seats, spite reservations.They won 43 of the 45 seats contested, in an emphatic statement of support, and she was sworn in as an MP and leader of the opposition.The following May, she left Myanmar for the first time in 24 years, in a sign of apparent confidence that its new leaders would allow her to return.

    However, she became frustrated with the pace of democratic development.n November 2014, she warned that Myanmar had not made any real reforms and that the US - which dropped most of its sanctions against the country in 2012 - had been "overly optimistic" in the past.And in June 2015, a vote in Myanmar's parliament failed to remove the army's veto over constitutional change.Four months later, on 8 November 2015, Myanmar held its first openly contested election in 25 years. The NLD won a landslide victory.Although she was not allowed to become president due to a constitutional restriction barring candidates with foreign spouses or children, Ms Suu Kyi became de facto leader in 2016, in a "state counsellor" role.Since then, her leadership has been defined by the Rohingya crisis. After deadly attacks on police stations in Rakhine state in August 2017, Myanmar's army began a brutal crackdown against the ethnic minority, forcing hundreds of thousands to flee across the border to Bangladesh.Critics say Ms Suu Kyi did not do nearly enough to condemn the military. Myanmar now faces a lawsuit at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) based in the Hague, and Ms Suu Kyi has travelled to the Netherlands to fight the charges of genocide levelled against her country.
    Since taking power, apart from the Rohingya crisis, Ms Suu Kyi and her NLD government have also faced criticism for prosecuting journalists and activists using colonial-era laws.Progress has been made in some areas, but the military continues to hold a quarter of parliamentary seats and control of key ministries including defence, home affairs and border affairs.In August 2018, Ms Suu Kyi described the generals in her cabinet as "rather sweet".Myanmar's democratic transition, analysts say, appears to have stalled.
    Myanmar Rohingya: What you need to know about the crisis
    The plight of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people is said to be the world's fastest growing refugee crisis.Risking death by sea or on foot, nearly 700,000 have fled the destruction of their homes and persecution in the northern Rakhine province of Myanmar (Burma) for neighbouring Bangladesh since August 2017.The United Nations described the military offensive in Rakhine, which provoked the exodus, as a "textbook example of ethnic cleansing".Myanmar's military says it is fighting Rohingya militants and denies targeting civilians.
    The Rohingya, who numbered around one million in Myanmar at the start of 2017, are one of the many ethnic minorities in the country. Rohingya Muslims represent the largest percentage of Muslims in Myanmar, with the majority living in Rakhine state.They have their own language and culture and say they are descendants of Arab traders and other groups who have been in the region for generations.But the government of Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country, denies the Rohingya citizenship and even excluded them from the 2014 census, refusing to recognise them as a people.It sees them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.Since the 1970s, Rohingya have migrated across the region in significant numbers. Estimates of their numbers are often much higher than official figures.In the last few years, before the latest crisis, thousands of Rohingya were ma
    The latest exodus began on 25 August 2017 after Rohingya Arsa militants launched deadly attacks on more than 30 police posts.Rohingyas arriving in an area known as Cox's Bazaar - a district in Bangladesh - say they fled after troops, backed by local Buddhist mobs, responded by burning their villages and attacking and killing civilians.Rohingya crisis: Refugees tell of 'house by house' killings
    At least 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the month after the violence broke out, according to Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF).Amnesty International says the Myanmar military also raped and abused Rohingya women and girls.

    The government, which puts the number of dead at 400, claims that "clearance operations" against the militants ended on 5 September, but BBC correspondents have seen evidence that they continued after that date.

    At least 288 villages were partially or totally destroyed by fire in northern Rakhine state after August 2017, according to analysis of satellite imagery by Human Rights Watch.

    The imagery shows many areas where Rohingya villages were reduced to smouldering rubble, while nearby ethnic Rakhine villages were left intact.

    Rakhine: What sparked latest violence?
    Who are the Rohingya group behind attacks?
    Extent of destruction

    Human Rights Watch say most damage occurred in Maungdaw Township, between 25 August and 25 September 2017 - with many villages destroyed after 5 September, when Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, said security force operations had ended.

    What is the scale of the crisis?

    Media captionWatch: Drone footage from the DEC shows the extent of sprawling camps on the Bangladesh border
    The UN says the Rohingya's situation is the "world's fastest growing refugee crisis".

    Before August, there were already around 307,500 Rohingya refugees living in camps, makeshift settlements and with host communities, according to the UNHCR. A further 687,000 are estimated to have arrived since August 2017.

    Most Rohingya refugees reaching Bangladesh - men, women and children with barely any belongings - have sought shelter in these areas, setting up camp wherever possible in the difficult terrain and with little access to aid, safe drinking water, food, shelter or healthcare.

    The largest refugee camp is Kutupalong but limited space means spontaneous settlements have sprung up in the surrounding countryside and nearby Balukhali as refugees keep arriving.

    While numbers in the Kutupalong refugee camp have reduced from a high of 22,241 to 13,900, the number living in makeshift or spontaneous settlements outside the camp has climbed from 99,495 to more than 604,000.

    Most other refugee sites have also continued to expanded - as of mid-April 2018, there were 781,000 refugees living in nine camps and settlements.

    There are also around 117, 000 people staying outside the camps in host communities.

    What is being done by the international community?
    Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
    The need for aid is overwhelming. With the monsoon season approaching, work has begun to re-locate some refugees from the camps most at risk of flooding or landslides and in other sites, work has been taking place to improve drainage channels and strengthen shelters.

    About 70% of the one million refugees are now receiving food aid, according to the Inter Sector Coordination Group report from mid-April 2018.
    Almost 100,000 people have been treated for malnutrition
    Large-scale vaccination programmes have been launched to try to minimise the risk of disease. By mid-January 2018, 315,000 children under 15 years of age had received a five-in-one vaccination, including cover for diptheria, tetanus and whooping cough.
    47,639 temporary emergency latrines have been built Bangladesh military
    There has been widespread condemnation of the Myanmar government's actions but talk of sanctions has been more muted:

    The UN Security Council appealed to Myanmar to stop the violence but no sanctions have been imposed
    The UN's human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has said an act of genocide against Rohingya Muslims by state forces in Myanmar cannot be ruled out
    The US urged Myanmar's troops to "respect the rule of law, stop the violence and end the displacement of civilians from all communities"
    China says the international community "should support the efforts of Myanmar in safeguarding the stability of its national development"
    Bangladesh plans to build more shelters in the Cox's Bazaar area but also wants to limit their travel to allocated areas
    Myanmar urged displaced people to find refuge in temporary camps set up in Rakhine state. In November Bangladesh signed a deal with Myanmar to return hundreds of thousands of Rohingya refugees, but few details have been released
    The UK has pledged £59m in aid to support those fleeing to Bangladesh. UK Prime Minister Theresa May also said the military action in Rakhine had to stop. The UK has suspended training courses for the Myanmar military

     

     

     

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