Myanmar civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi will personally defend her government from allegations of genocide against the minority Muslim Rohingya – an unusual twist of fate for a Nobel Peace Prize winner.
Suu Kyi will lead a legal team to the International Court of Justice in the Netherlands, her office said in a statement Wednesday. The small West African nation of Gambia has filed a lawsuit in the world court alleging that Myanmar committed “genocidal acts” that “were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group” through mass murder, rape, and destruction of communities.
More than 740,000 Rohingya have fled into neighboring Bangladesh since Myanmar’s military launched a campaign of violence against the ethnic Muslim minority in 2016. Myanmar has long said it was targeting terrorists.
Myanmar has retained prominent international lawyers to contest the case submitted by Gambia,” Suu Kyi’s State Counsellor office wrote on Facebook. “The State Counselor, in her capacity as Union Minister for Foreign Affairs, will lead a team to the Hague, Netherlands, to defend the national interest of Myanmar at the ICJ,” it added.
The first public hearings on the case will happen on December 10 and 12, according to the ICJ.
Gambia moved forward with the filing after it received the backing of the the 57-nation Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, Reuters reported. The ICJ can only hear cases between states.
Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel peace prize while under house arrest in 1991, when she was an opposition figure in Myanmar. The Nobel committee cited her work to “establish a democratic society in which the country’s ethnic groups could cooperate in harmony,” according to its website.
After being freed, her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a historic majority in 2015, which brought in the country’s first civilian government in decades.
But critics say her reputation as democracy icon was sullied by her failure to speak out about mass killings and displacement of the Rohingya.
In 2017, she claimed during a phone conversation with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan that a “huge iceberg of misinformation” about the Rohingya crisis was being distributed to benefit “terrorists.”
According to a readout of the call, she said her government was fighting to ensure “terrorism” didn’t spread over the whole of Rakhine state.
CNN’s Ben Westcott and Rebecca Wright contributed to this report.