Suu Kyi in court as genocide case set out against Myanmar

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi attends a hearing in a case filed by Gambia against Myanmar alleging genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya population, at the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in The Hague, Netherlands December 10, 2019. REUTERS/Yves Herman

THE HAGUE (Reuters) – Mass rapes, the burning alive of Muslim Rohingya families in their homes and the killing with knives of dozens of children were described by Gambia’s legal team as it set out its genocide case against Myanmar at the U.N.’s highest court on Tuesday.

Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, looked on impassively as the alleged atrocities were detailed on the first of three days of hearings at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. The case was instituted by Gambia against Buddhist-majority Myanmar in November.

“All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings,” Gambia’s Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said in opening comments.

“To stop these acts of barbarity and brutality that have shocked and continue to shock our collective conscience. To stop this genocide of its own people.”

Suu Kyi is expected on Wednesday to repeat denials of genocide and argue that military “clearance operations” launched in August 2017 were a legitimate counterterrorism response to attacks by Rohingya militants.

Detailing events at the village of Min Gyi, Gambia’s lawyer Andrew Loewenstein drew on witness accounts recorded in a report by U.N. investigators, who estimated 750 people were killed there, including more than 100 children under the age of 6.

“There were dead bodies on the floor: young boys from our village,” Loewenstein quoted from one survivor’s testimony to the U.N. fact-finding mission.

“As we entered the house, the soldiers locked the door. One soldier raped me. He stabbed me in the back of my neck and in my abdomen. I was trying to save my baby, who was only 28 days old, but they threw him on the ground and he died.”

At the end of Tuesday’s hearing Gambia asked the court to order special measures to protect the Rohingya. The so-called provisional measures would act as a kind of restraining order for the Myanmar military until the case is heard in full.

“Only in this way can we hope the rights of the Gambia and the safety of the Rohingya group be fully protected,” said Philippe Sands, another lawyer for the tiny, mostly Muslim West African country.

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