World, Asia - Pacific

Genocide lawsuits prompt mixed reactions in Myanmar

Many hope Myanmar's Suu Kyi seeks truth instead of blanket denial in genocide charge at international courts

Kyaw Ye Lynn  | 06.12.2019 - Update : 06.12.2019
Genocide lawsuits prompt mixed reactions in Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar

A billboard of Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi sharing a laugh with two top generals appeared in downtown Hpa-An, capital of the southeastern Karen state, for a few days in late November ahead of a Dec. 11 rally to show support for her fight against genocide charges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

It was replaced by a photo of Aung San Suu Kyi in traditional Karen suits on Nov. 29 following the growing criticism online.

Saw Kyaw Thu, a member of ruling party National League for Democracy and one of the organizers, told Anadolu Agency that the rally is to appreciate Suu Kyi’s decision to take responsibility.

"By displacing the photo, we would like to message military that she would never stab you in the back, and so please cooperate with her in doing our country great again," he said over the phone on Monday.

He added it was taken down because critics warn that it would make international community mistaken Suu Kyi that she would protect top military generals, who have been accused of commanding atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

"Don’t get her wrong. We believe she would not make blanket denial. She will be loyal to the truth," he said.

Saw Kyaw Thu said Karen ethnic community, like other ethnic minority groups including Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state, have suffered military persecution for decades.

"Don’t get us wrong. We stand with her, because we believe she is the leader we trust the most," he said.

Myanmar faces a lawsuit at ICJ, filed by a tiny West African country, Gambia, in support of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, for atrocities against Rohingya Muslims in the country over the past few years.

Aung San Suu Kyi said in a statement last month that she, as a foreign minister, would fight the lawsuit to defend the interests of the country.

As a Myanmar team prepares for the upcoming visit to the Netherlands to fight against the alleged genocide charge, Suu Kyi enjoys overwhelming domestic support.

Ahead of Suu Kyi’s trip to The Hague for the first hearing at ICJ on Dec. 10, loyalists has been organizing a series of rally in commercial city of Yangon and several major cities to show their support of Suu Kyi.

Several local organizations issued statements backing Suu Kyi in fighting the charge.

It includes some ethnic rebel groups, mostly major rebel groups based in Shan state such as United Wa State Army, National Democratic Alliance Army, Shan State Progressive Party (SSPP) and Restoration Council of Shan State.

Sao Khun Sai, vice-chairman of SSPP, told Anadolu Agency last month that the fight at Peace Palace is definitely a better way than any other ways in seeking the truth.

"It is a smarter way to expose the truth in such a way as it is a very complex issue," he said.

The clearance operation by military following the attacks on security forces by militants -- for which the government blames Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) -- in 2017 forced more than 750,000 Rohingya refugees, mostly women and children, to flee Myanmar and cross into Bangladesh.

Since Aug. 25, 2017, nearly 24,000 Rohingya Muslims have been killed by Myanmar’s state forces, according to a report by the Ontario International Development Agency (OIDA).

More than 34,000 Rohingya were also thrown into fires, while over 114,000 others were beaten, said the OIDA report, titled "Forced Migration of Rohingya: The Untold Experience."

Some 18,000 Rohingya women and girls were raped by Myanmar’s army and police and over 115,000 Rohingya homes were burned down and 113,000 others vandalized, it added.

Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state have been persecuted by the Myanmar army several times since 1960s.

Aung San Suu Kyi has justified the crackdown as counterinsurgency against ARSA for allegedly been involved in deadly attacks on police outposts in Rakhine state.

For some ethnic rebel groups, the lawsuit is seen as the first step in seeking the justice for those who suffer military persecutions for decades.

The Northern Alliance -- a rebel coalition of the Ta’ang National Liberation Army (TNLA), Arakan Army and Myanmar National Democratic Alliance Army -- was among those who welcomed the lawsuit against Myanmar.

The groups said they stand ready to cooperate and collect evidence of war crimes by the military in northeastern Shan state and western Rakhine state in 2009-2019 and are in full support of the international organizations that have taken up the matter with the ICC (International Criminal Court) and ICJ.

Mai Aik Kyaw, spokesperson of TNLA, said they worried that Suu Kyi would make blanket denial as the way she did previously.

"If she only relies on the facts provided by military, she would not be able to save her reputation," he told Anadolu Agency over the phone on Wednesday.

"So we would like to suggest her not to defend the war criminals," he said.

While perpetrators are going to face international lawsuits for their atrocities, Myanmar's first cardinal Charles Bo this week appealed international community to take the situation of the Myanmar people into consideration.

"I urge the international community not to inadvertently penalize those who are not responsible, and not to punish the people of Myanmar as a whole," he said in a press release on Sunday.

But he did not make any comment on the lawsuit Myanmar is facing, however urged Myanmar people to accept the truth.

"For peace to be prevailed, reconciliation and acceptance of the truth are necessary," he said.

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