Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on Wednesday that there was no proof of ‘genocidal intent’ behind the Tatmadaw’s military campaign against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.
In a 20-minute presentation broadcast live on UN TV, she did not rule out use of ‘disproportionate force’ by the military but insisted that ‘surely under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.’
Suu Kyi lambasted Gambia for placing before the UN top court ‘a misleading and incomplete picture of the situation in Rakhine state’.
Questions have been raised by many experts who feel Gambia may have gone overboard by alleging genocide, though none doubts substantial cases of human rights abuses in Rakhine.
Suu Kyi highlighted the complex situation in Rakhine state and assured ICJ that investigations were on to punish anyone, including military personnel, found guilty of extrajudicial killings and human rights abuse.
Her argument revolved round the fact that the Myanmar army was responding to an attack by hundreds of Rohingya terrorists in 2017 and what happened later cannot be called a genocide.
“It cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defence services in some cases in disregard of international humanitarian law, or that they did not distinguish clearly enough between fighters and civilians,” Suu Kyi said.
But she said that Myanmar was undertaking its own investigations in a transparent way and none found guilty will be spared, not even men in uniform.
Suu Kyi blamed the Rakhine conflict as partly to the outcome of British colonial legacy.
She highlighted the ongoing conflict between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military that has had severe repercussions on civilians of all ethnicity and religions and had displaced thousands and led to continuous curfews.
Suu Kyi said the main clearance operations resulted from the attacks by ARSA terrorists who claimed responsibility for killing nine police and 100 civilians.
She claimed the group had received training from Afghan and Pakistani militants.
She stressed the importance of not misunderstanding the term ‘clearance operations’, noting it was a standard term used by the Myanmar military for dealing with clearing out militants as opposed to civilians.
The Myanmar State Counsellor said outside intervention was not necessary because her government was carrying out their own investigations and prosecutions.
“As part of the overall efforts of the Myanmar government, a court martial found that 10 Muslim men had been summarily executed in In Din village, one of the 12 the locations of serious incidents referred to earlier,” she noted.
“It sentenced four officers and three soldiers each to 10 years in prison with hard labour, she added.
“After serving a part of the sentences, they were given a military pardon. Many of us in Myanmar were unhappy with this pardon,” she asserted
Other cases are undertaken without controversy, Suu Kyi said, pointing to a court martial case in Chin State where three displaced civilians had been killed.
“It sentenced six soldiers each to 10 years in prison in January 2018.
Relatives of the victims and local civil society representatives were invited to the proceedings.
The office of the judge advocate general in Myanmar is by our standards well-resourced with more than 90 staff and a presence in all regional commands throughout the country,” she said.
She said she was encouraged by this court martial and she expects the office to continue investigations and prosecutions based on reliable evidence.
Suu Kyi said the clearance operations tragically led to several hundred thousand Rohingya Muslims having to flee Rakhine State over the border into Bangladesh.
She said if there were war crimes committed, these should be addressed locally.
The danger of pursuing the claim of genocide was that this would feed the flames of polarization and hate.
Suu Kyi mentioned a speech made by Burmese diplomat U Thant in 1974 in which he used the term ‘planetary citizenship’.
She said she recognized that the Myanmar government needed to get to grips with the challenges of low development and poverty in the region.
Suu Kyi said the authorities were committed to expediting ID cards and registering all children born in Rakhine State as citizens.
Efforts included scholarships for all communities and interfaith dialogue was being encouraged.
Suu Kyi said she was encouraged by the fact that three IDP camps had been closed in the state.
She questioned how there could be genocidal intent, noting the current ongoing conflict between the Arakan Army and the Myanmar military that did not involve Muslims.