Lawyers in Australia seek to prosecute Aung San Suu Kyi

Rights lawyers accuse the de facto Myanmar leader of ‘crimes against humanity’ over Rohingya treatment.

A group of Australian human rights lawyers has filed a private prosecution application against Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, over her country’s treatment of Rohingya minority group. 

“We have launched a private prosecution application in the Magistrate’s Court of Victoria accusing Aung San Suu Kyi of crimes against humanity, specifically the crime of deportation and forcible transfer of people,” human rights lawyer Alison Battisson told Al Jazeera on Friday. 

The application claims that the conduct of Aung San Suu Kyi, who is in Australia for the ASEAN summit, “was committed knowingly as part of a widespread or systematic attack against a civilian population”.

The Myanmar leader is also accused of not using her authority to stop these attacks and failing to submit the matter to any competent authority for investigation. 

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya have been driven from northern Rakhine into Bangladesh since August 25 last year by the Myanmar army, which has used attacks by armed Rohingya fighters as a pretext for its brutal crackdown on the group. 

The UN has branded the military crackdown as “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, with a top official saying it carried all the “hallmarks of genocide”.

Australia’s attorney general responded to the allegations brought against Aung San Suu Kyi by saying heads of government and ministers of foreign affairs have immunity from prosecution under international conventions.


The group of five lawyers, however, says that this immunity should not apply as Aung San Suu Kyi is not officially the head of Myanmar’s government.

The lawyers also say what they are accusing Aung San Suu Kyi of has nothing to do with her foreign affairs portfolio so it the immunity protocol does not apply.

ASEAN summit protests

The application, filed at the request of the Rohingya community in Australia, comes as Aung San Suu Kyi is in Sydney to take part in the ASEAN summit for Southeast Asian leaders.

Hundreds protested in Sydney on Saturday over a number of alleged human rights abuses across the region, including those committed against the Rohingya. 

“The Australian government should not invite her [Aung San Suu Kyi] here unless she indicates trying to solve the genocidal problems in her country,” Shawfikul Islam, one of the protesters, told Al Jazeera.

Australia’s Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull says he will raise the Rohingya crisis with Aung San Suu Kyi, but he has also said the main issues during the ASEAN convention are fighting “terrorism” and creating trade opportunities in the face of protectionism.

Other demonstrators held up signs protesting against the Vietnamese and Cambodian governments, accusing them of cracking down on human rights.

Human Rights Watch Australia director Elaine Pearson said Cambodia’s leader Hun Sen has used corruption, intimidation and violence to stay in power for 33 years.

“There’s not a strong unambiguous message from the Australian government about Hun Sen’s crackdown in Cambodia,” she told Al Jazeera.

“I think it’s a big mistake for the government to completely gloss over these issues,” she added.

“They should be front and centre of a summit like this.”

Protests are also expected on Sunday.