Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi — the first honourary Canadian to be stripped of citizenship — will defend her country against accusations of genocide against Rohingya Muslims at the United Nation’s highest court this week.
The case before the International Court of Justice in The Hague relates to a counterinsurgency campaign waged by Myanmar’s military against members of the country’s Muslim Rohingya community in August 2017 in response to an insurgent attack.
It alleges that Myanmar’s actions are “genocidal in character because they are intended to destroy the Rohingya group in whole or in part.”
Here’s a closer look at the country’s actions against Rohingyas, and Suu Kyi’s history with Canada.
Why is Myanmar accused of genocide?
Violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state in August 2017 led to more than 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to neighbouring Bangladesh. Reports from human rights agencies described numerous incidents of mass rapes, killings, separating of families, and torching of homes and villages.
A May 2019 report by the UN said around one million Rohingya, including before and after August 2017, have now sought refuge in Bangladesh’s Cox Bazar refugee camp.
“Since 2012, and especially since August of 2017, the world has witnessed a wrenching spectacle of human rights violations on a massive scale.”
“Clearly, the main responsibility for this belongs to the Government of that country; sadly, in this it seems to count with the solid support of most of its population,” the report read.
The United Nations has also said the campaign was executed with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings and rape.
Reports from Human Rights Watch say the violence did not stop after August 2017. It cites reports of at least 34 villages, mostly belonging to Rohingyas, being set on fire between January and March 2018.
The organization also says about 125,000 Rohingya remain in detention camps in Rakhine.
Myanmar has held the position was that it “has not deported any individuals in the areas of concern and in fact has worked hard in collaboration with Bangladesh to repatriate those displaced from their homes.”
Details on hearings, protests
Hearings at the international court are set for Dec. 10 to 12.
During three days of hearings, the court will ask a 16-member panel of UN judges at the International Criminal Court of Justice to impose “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya before the case can be heard in full.
The lawsuit was filed by Gambia, a mainly Muslim West African country, in November accusing Buddhist-majority Myanmar of genocide, the most serious international crime. The case was filed on behalf the Organization of Islamic Co-operation, a group of 57 Muslim countries.
Suu Kyi’s supporters, part of the country’s National League for Democracy party, have been rallying support.
On Monday, they gathered in front of the City Hall in Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, waving national flags and listening to music and poetry.
Several dozen supporters of Suu Kyi are also bound for The Hague for her trial.
Despite international condemnation over the campaign, Suu Kyi, whose government has defended the campaign as a legitimate response to attacks by Rohingya militants, remains overwhelmingly popular at home. “I believe in Mother Suu forever,” said Zaw Htet, a former political prisoner who joined the trip to The Hague.
Canada voices support for hearings
The Netherlands and Canada put out a joint statement in support of Gambia on Monday.
“Canada and the Netherlands consider it their obligation to support The Gambia before the International Court of Justice, as it concerns all of humanity,” the two countries said.
“For decades, the Rohingya have suffered systemic discrimination and exclusion, marred by waves of abhorrent violence,” the statement added.
“These facts have been corroborated by several investigations, including those conducted by the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar and human rights organizations. They include crimes that constitute acts described in Article II of the Genocide Convention.”
In November, then Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland said Canada would look for ways to support Gambia’s legal efforts.
Revoking of Suu Kyi’s honourary Canadian citizenship
Suu Kyi was awarded an honorary Canadian citizenship by the Harper government in 2007 for what was deemed her pursuit of freedom and democracy in Myanmar.
However, in 2017, amid criticism of Suu Kyi’s inaction amid the violence, calls grew for it to be revoked.
In October 2018, after votes from the House of Commons and the Senate, Suu Kyi’s citizenship was rescinded.
The move came days after MPs unanimously adopted a motion to recognize the crimes against the Rohingya as genocide.
While Suu Kyi no longer has the Canadian honour, she is still a Nobel Peace prize laureate.
— With files from The Associated Press, The Canadian Press and Reuters