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Aung San Suu Kyi goes to The Hague for the genocide case in Myanmar



Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in the Netherlands to defend Myanmar against a genocide complaint that lawyers say will forever link the Nobel Prize winner to the brutal military crash against the country's Rohingya minority.

But with an election coming next year, the head of the Myanmar government's stand is cheered by millions of supporters at home.

In three days of hearings starting on Tuesday, the International Court of Justice in The Hague will hear a case accusing the atrocities committed by Myanmar security forces against Rohingya in the state of Rakhine in 201

7-18 constituted genocide.

Last month, Aung San Suu Kyi made the surprise decision to act as Myanmar's agent in the case, brought by the Gambia and backed by the Netherlands and Canada. This means that she will open the arguments and make submissions.

The case, which is expected to take years, is expected to be an important test of global justice. The genocide has only been decided by international tribunals in a handful of cases, involving Rwanda in 1994, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1995 and Cambodia in 1975-79.

It will focus on the crackdown on Rohingya, a mostly Muslim minority that has been reviled by many in the Buddhist majority, which followed a series of attacks on the police, military and civilians by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA), a rebel group.

Doing so will reveal the gap between how a campaign that killed thousands and exiled more than 700,000 Rohingya is seen outside Myanmar and at home.

  Rohingya refugees arrive on the Bangladeshi side of the Naf River after crossing the border from Myanmar, in Palang Khali, Bangladesh on October 16, 2017. REUTERS / Jorge Silva
This 2017 photo shows Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh side of the Naf River after crossing the border from Myanmar © Reuters

Abroad, Aung San Suu Kyi has become a spotty human rights icon. But in Myanmar, she is seen as a victim of an international smear campaign promoted by Muslim countries.

"The overwhelming majority of Burmese do not believe that what happened was a genocide," said Thant Myint-U, author of The Hidden History of Burma . "Instead, it is a tale that skirts past oppression of Rohingya, portrays ARSA as an Islamist terror threat and focuses on ARSA's attack on civilians."

Lawyers say it is an unusual and high-risk strategy for a head of state or government to represent their country in such a case, and thus be indelibly associated with it.

Myanmar analysts have linked Aung San Suu Kyi's legal action to next year's elections and a push from her National League for Democracy for reforms in the country's military-drafted constitution ahead of the vote.

"She wants to make it a public gig," said Khin Zaw Win, director of the Tampadipa Institute think tank in Yangon. "It is political capital that is needed, and this time she has to make a statement."

Aung San Suu Kyi's appearance on the ICJ is likely to be met by pro-Rohingya protesters as well as Burmese supporters. On Monday, the exiled Rohingya groups launched a "Boycott Myanmar" campaign.

But in Myanmar, billboards have appeared in cities that support the leader and supporters have held rallies, marches and prayer services.

Aung Tin Thein (64), who boarded a flight to Amsterdam with two dozen other Aung San Suu Kyi followers, said: “She has sacrificed her whole life and family for her country and her people. Through this little gesture. . . we hope to be an encouragement to her in a time of her distress and anxiety. ”

Aung San Suu Kyi has not visited Western Europe since 2016, when she still enjoyed international support after Myanmar's first free elections in decades. Since the Rohingya outbreak, she has been stolen a number of awards and been attacked by other Nobel laureates.

Award winners accuse her of playing down the atrocities committed by the military, police and civilians against Rohingya, including killings, rapes and mutilations.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been driving foreign critics for failing to understand the complexities of Rakhine, a poor state bordering Bangladesh where government troops are fighting their own revolt against Buddhist rebels.

"This case may not have drawn much attention to what is going on, but her decision to present it herself has governed the whole question of what Burma has done," said Abdul Malik Mujahid, leader of the Burma Task Force, a coalition of campaign groups for Rohingya.

"Either she can restore the honor of a Nobel laureate, or she can continue to damage her position and her ability to remove Burma from military control."

Additional Report of Cape Diamond in Yangon


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