This is a fateful week for Suu Kyi and Myanmar when the one-time lodestar of democracy appears before the International Court of Justice in The Hague in connection with a historic case of genocide against the country over the persecution and worse of the Rohingyas. The credit for the case having come up before the ICJ Bench ~ indeed the fountain-head of justice ~ must go to the tiny African nation of Gambia, whose conscience has been stirred by the tyranny of the junta… unlike the comity of nations generally.
This must rank as the cruellest irony of the Nobel Peace prize that Suu Kyi won nearly two decades ago for her struggle against the military dictatorship. That she now kowtows to the military leadership even when in authority as Senior Counsellor (short of President) has deepened the humanitarian crisis, which in the reckoning of the United Nations is the worst since World War II. The case, the first international legal attempt to bring Myanmar to justice over alleged mass killings of the Rohingya minority, comes after Gambia had on November 11 filed a petition before the ICJ, accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention. Gambia’s action has been tangible, verily a landmark development in international law, and stands out in refreshing contrast to effusions of sympathy by other nations.
Gambia’s legal team will ask the ICJ judges for “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingyas before the case is heard in full. It is hard not to wonder whether the junta has fielded Suu Kyi to do the talking at The Hague, while the omnipotent military maintains an intriguing silence in the capital, Naypidaw. It is totally unprecedented for a top political leader like Suu Kyi to take a leading role in a case at the ICJ. “Legally it could be counterproductive for Suu Kyi to assume such a role since it looks like she is politicising the case,” was the response of Reed Brody, a commissioner at the International Commission of Jurists.
“The ICJ oozes tradition and diplomatic protocol and I doubt the judges will be impressed by tour groups arriving from Myanmar to support the government.” Suu Kyi has been widely criticised for remaining consistently silent on the persecution of Rohingyas, and more recently on a mobile phone blackout imposed on parts of the predominantly Buddhist Myanmar. Gambia’s petition is explicit on the point that Myanmar’s anti-Rohingya attacks are “genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part”. It would be presumptuous to speculate on the ICJ’s verdict, still less the sum and substance of Suu Kyi’s submission. Suffice it to register that the case is a significant step in the quest for accountability. At the very least, a formal apology to the victims can reasonably be expected. Myanmar owes it to the world.