A brutal crackdown on the minority Rohingya has brought Myanmar to the UN’s highest court and charges of genocide.
Rohingya refugees have accused former Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi of lying to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) in a testimony in which she denied that her country’s armed forces were guilty of genocide against the mostly Muslim minority group.
“The world will judge their claim of no genocide with evidence,” Mohammed Mohibullah, chairman of the Arakan Rohingya Society for Peace and Human Rights, told the Associated Press news agency.
“A thief never admits he is a thief, but justice can be delivered through evidence. The world has obtained evidence from us,” he said at the Kutupalong refugee camp in Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar district.
“Even if Suu Kyi lies, she won’t be spared. She will certainly face justice. The world should take steps against her,” he said.
Suu Kyi, who spent years under house arrest under the military dictatorship, is now Myanmar’s civilian leader and told the court that the exodus of hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to neighbouring Bangladesh in 2017 was the unfortunate result of a battle with armed fighters.
She denied the army had killed civilians, raped women and torched houses.
Critics describe the army’s actions by the army as a deliberate campaign of ethnic cleansing and genocide that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee.
“Aung San Suu Kyi’s picture of an internal military conflict with no genocidal intent against the Rohingya is completely false,” Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Global Justice Center in New York, said in a statement to Al Jazeera.
“Multiple independent agencies and experts, as well as Rohingya themselves, have documented mass killings, widespread rape, and wholesale destruction of land and property intentionally inflicted on innocent civilians.
“The government has discriminated against the Rohingya for decades. This is genocide and it’s precisely what the Genocide Convention set out to prevent.”
Nur Kamal, a refugee at Kutupalong, also rejected Suu Kyi’s testimony.
“The military cordoned off people and killed them by opening fire, setting them ablaze – isn’t this genocide? Will this be justified if Suu Ki says so?” Kamal told AP.
Nurul Alam, another Rohingya leader, told Al Jazeera that Suu Kyi’s decision to appear at The Hague would only benefit her, not the displaced refugees.
“She was part of the atrocities against us. She went there to lie and to gain public support for the 2020 elections in Myanmar,” he said.
A legal team from The Gambia, acting on behalf of the 57-country Organization of Islamic Cooperation, asked the ICJ in The Hague to take “all measures within its power to prevent all acts that amount to, or contribute to, the crime of genocide” in Myanmar.
The Gambia alleged that genocide was committed and is ongoing.
Suu Kyi accused The Gambia of providing a misleading and incomplete account of what happened in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017.
Her appearance at the court was striking in that she was defending the same military that kept her under house arrest for about 15 years.
She was awarded the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize in absentia for championing democracy and rights under Myanmar’s then-ruling military government.
Buddhist-majority Myanmar has consistently denied violating human rights and says military operations in Rakhine state, where most Rohingya lived, were justified in response to attacks on security posts by Rohingya armed groups.
A UN-established investigation earlier recommended the prosecution of Myanmar’s top military commanders on charges of genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity for the crackdown on the Rohingya.
The UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar said rapes of Rohingya by Myanmar’s security forces were systemic and demonstrated the intent to commit genocide.
It said in a report the discrimination that Myanmar practised against the Rohingya in peacetime aggravated the sexual violence towards them during times of conflict.
Bangladesh and Myanmar have signed an agreement to begin the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh, but two attempts have failed thus far when no one came forward to return voluntarily, citing continuing security concerns.