The Hague (Reuters) – Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrived at the U.N.’s International Court of Justice on Tuesday to defend her country over charges of genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority, as back home thousands of people rallied in her support.
Gambia launched the proceedings against Buddhist-majority Myanmar in November, accusing it of violating its obligations under the 1948 Genocide Convention.
It is only the third genocide case filed at the court since World War Two.
During three days of court proceedings Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, is expected to repeat denials of genocide and argue that military operations in question were a legitimate counterterrorism response to attacks by Rohingya militants.
Suu Kyi arrived in a motorcade at the ornate Peace Palace in The Hague ahead of the start of proceedings on Tuesday morning. She ignored questions shouted out to her by waiting reporters.
Earlier, thousands of people rallied in Yangon, the commercial capital of Myanmar, carrying posters of Suu Kyi’s face and waving national flags as they chanted: “To protect the country’s dignity, stand with Mother Suu.”
“It’s like Mother Suu went to the frontlines for our country,” said 58-year-old Myint Myint Thwin. “Therefore to show our support and that we stand with her we joined this march.”
This week’s proceedings before a panel of 17 judges will not deal with the core allegation of genocide, but Gambia has requested a court order for Myanmar to halt any activity that may aggravate the dispute.
Gambia, a tiny, Muslim West African country, will argue that Myanmar’s forces carried out widespread and systematic atrocities during what it called “clearance operations” from August 2017 that constituted genocide.
Its court petition accused Myanmar of genocidal acts “intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence, as well as the systematic destruction by fire of their villages, often with inhabitants locked inside burning houses”.
The tribunal, also known as the World Court, has no enforcement powers, but its rulings are final and have significant legal weight.