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Myanmar Leader Aung San Suu Kyi Defends Country Against Accusations Of Genocide


Nobel Peace Prize winner and former democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was back at the International Court of Justice today. She was defending Myanmar against accusations of genocide. The case was brought by Gambia over the plight of Myanmar's Muslim minority, the Rohingya. Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: Today was the last day for both Gambia and Myanmar to make their arguments in the first stage of what could be a lengthy case. Yesterday Aung San Suu Kyi categorically rejected charges of genocide and defended Myanmar's military for fighting back against Rohingya militants in August 2017. Today Gambia's lead advocate, Paul Reichler, was having none of it.


PAUL REICHLER: Myanmar has told us that its clearance operations were not aimed at destroying the Rohingya but were actually intended to clear insurgents or terrorists - by deliberately killing Rohingya children. Many were infants beaten to death or torn from their mother's arms and thrown into a river to drown. How many of them were terrorists?

SULLIVAN: He was just getting started.


REICHLER: We heard nothing about sexual violence from Myanmar yesterday - not a single word about it. Because it is undeniable and unspeakable, they chose to ignore it completely. I can't really blame them. I would hate to be the one having to defend it.

SULLIVAN: Myanmar's team had its opportunity to respond in the afternoon, but it ignored the issues made by Gambia about who was killed where or when or why, nor did Myanmar's team address the alleged sexual violence. Instead, it spent most of its time trying to discredit Gambia's case, suggesting that the charges against Myanmar simply didn't amount to genocide under international law.

TUN KHIN: Today Gambia's legal team effectively tore their arguments to shreds. Aung San Suu Kyi and Myanmar legal team offered nothing but hollow denial and legal acrobatics, you know?

SULLIVAN: Tun Khin is president of the Burmese Rohingya Organisation in Great Britain. He was at The Hague for today's session.

KHIN: For the first time, Myanmar military are facing trial for their crimes. That is a victory.

SULLIVAN: A victory not just for the Rohingya, he says, but for other ethnic minorities in conflict with Myanmar's military - a situation Aung San Suu Kyi alluded to in her brief closing remarks, citing the military's escalating conflict with the Arakan Army, another armed ethnic group.


AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Ending the ongoing internal armed conflict between the Arakan Army and Myanmar's defense services is of the utmost importance for our country, but it is equally important to avoid any reignition of the 2016-2017 internal armed conflicts in northern Rakhine.

SULLIVAN: It's hard to see how that could happen. Most of the Rohingya who lived in Rakhine State have already left. More than 700,000 fled the military's bloody crackdown in 2017. Most of the 400,000 who remain live in virtual lockdown, unable to move freely, unwanted by a country that doesn't even consider them citizens. The court will now decide whether to issue provisional measures - effectively, an injunction against Myanmar's military - to ensure the safety of the Rohingya that remain. A decision could come within weeks.

For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Bangkok. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.