THE HAGUE: Gambia’s legal team described mass rapes, the burning of families in their homes and killing of dozens of Muslim Rohingya children with knives as it set out its genocide case against Myanmar at the UN’s International Court of Justice on Tuesday.
Myanmar’s leader Aung San SuuKyi, a Nobel Peace laureate, looked on impassively as the alleged atrocities were detailed at the beginning of three days of hearings in The Hague instituted by Gambia against Buddhist-majority Myanmar in November.
“All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings,” Gambia’s Justice Minister AbubacarrTambadou said in opening comments.
“To stop these acts of barbarity and brutality that have shocked and continue to shock our collective conscience. To stop this genocide of its own people.”
SuuKyi is expected to repeat denials of genocide and argue that military operations launched in August 2017 were a legitimate counterterrorism response to attacks by Rohingya militants on security forces.
Detailing events at the village of Min Gyi, lawyer Andrew Loewenstein drew on witness accounts recorded in a report by UN investigators, who estimated 750 people were killed there, including more than 100 children under the age of 6.
“I entered the house with four of my neighbors and three of us had babies,” Loewenstein quoted from one survivor’s testimony to the UN fact-finding mission.
“There were dead bodies on the floor: young boys from our village. As we entered the house, the soldiers locked the door. One soldier raped me. He stabbed me in the back of my neck and in my abdomen. I was trying to save my baby, who was only 28 days old, but they threw him on the ground and he died.”
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after the military-led crackdown and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh. The UN investigators concluded the military campaign was executed with “genocidal intent”.
Myanmar has previously denied almost all allegations made by refugees against its troops, including of mass rape, killings and arson, and promised to punish any soldiers involved in what it says were isolated cases of wrongdoing. Outside the court, dozens of Rohingya demonstrated to demand justice for victims. Hours earlier in Yangon, Myanmar’s commercial capital, thousands of people had rallied in support of SuuKyi.
“It’s like Mother Suu went to the frontlines for our country,” said 58-year-old MyintMyintThwin. “Therefore to show our support and that we stand with her we joined this march.”