Reaction on social media to the announcement by the State Counsellor’s Office late Wednesday that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi would lead a legal team to defend Myanmar before the International Court of Justice (ICJ) was mostly favourable.
On November 11, Gambia filed a complaint on behalf of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation before the ICJ accusing the Tatmadaw (military) of committing genocide against the Muslim minority in northern Rakhine during a massive crackdown in 2017.
“Myanmar has retained prominent international lawyers to contest the case submitted by Gambia,” the office said in a statement.
“The State Counsellor, 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 said.
People posted on social media that the State Counsellor was a good leader who will defend her country against untrue accusations and was willing to take responsibility for all the actions of her government. “We stand behind you,” some said.
For two years some human rights groups and members of the international community have condemned Daw Aung San Suu Kyi for her stoic silence amid allegations of genocide in northern Rakhine levelled against the Tatmadaw.
She was stripped of many international awards accorded to her by governments and international organisations for failing to take action on the allegations.
Others said it was not fair for the State Counsellor to be defending actions that her government had not committed, and called on the military to take responsibility for the problem.
The ICJ case stemmed from the mass exodus of over 700,000 Muslims from northern Rakhine to Bangladesh since August 25, 2017, when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) launched deadly attacks on dozens of security outposts in the area and the Tatmadaw responded with a massive crackdown.
Gambia filed the same case before the International Criminal Court (ICC) a few days earlier, but Myanmar ignored the case, saying it was not a party to the statute that established the ICC.
The ICC, which is also in The Hague, authorised its chief prosecutor to launch a full investigation into the persecution of minority Muslims in Rakhine on November 13.
Some local politicians expressed concern over the State Counsellor’s plan to lead the Myanmar team to the ICJ. They said the leaders should first discuss how to deal with the case before the hearings start.
“The most important thing is to have a good plan between the State Counsellor and military leaders to tackle the issues,” said U Hla Saw, a Pyithu Hluttaw MP from the Arakan National Party, which has been critical of the government.
“As we all know, in Myanmar, the military and NLD (National League for Democracy)-led government stick to their own ways, so we don’t know if they have a common stand on the issue,” he added.
Political analysts said the ICJ case could have a serious effect on Myanmar and the country’s image if not handled properly.
Also, it could have an effect on international relations and result in economic sanctions by western countries, they warned.
The international community first accused Myanmar of committing genocide in Rakhine State in 2012.
A separate lawsuit filed by human rights groups in Argentina named Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, Tatmadaw Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, President Win Myint, and former presidents Thein Sein and Htin Kyaw as co-defendants.
Myanmar rejected the suit because it was not a member of the ICC, President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay said.
Lawyer U Thein Than Oo said Myanmar has faced similar accusations since the 1988 pro-democracy protests, which were brutally crushed by the military.
“The northern Rakhine issue has become the biggest concern of the international community. Now the issue has reached the ICJ because the Myanmar government refused to allow the UN Fact-Finding Mission to visit Myanmar,” he added.
If security forces violated human rights and really committed crimes against Rakhine Muslims during military operations against ARSA, they should admit it and take responsibility, U Thein Than Oo said.
Government peace negotiators and the 10 ethnic armed groups that have signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement have pledged to actively help counter the international court cases filed against Myanmar, according to a statement they issued after a meeting in Chiang Mai, Thailand.
The Tatmadaw said it will fully support the government in dealing with the cases.
“We are ready to provide information to the government about the issues in Rakhine State,” Brigadier General Zaw Min Tun, secretary of the Tatmadaw’s True News agency said.
However, Akila Radhakrishnan, president of the Indonesia-based Global Justice Centre, said Daw Aung San Suu Kyi “and the civilian government failed to act against genocide in Rakhine State with any level of urgency and have taken no steps to hold the military to account.”
“Now, they are going to defend the military and government’s genocidal actions on one of the world’s largest and most influential stages,” he said in a statement. “The international community should no longer have illusions where (Daw Aung San) Suu Kyi and the civilian government stand, and must act to support Gambia and take other measures to hold Myanmar accountable.”