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Aung San Suu Kyi Defends Myanmar Against Genocide Charges


Aung San Suu Kyi is appearing in court - Nobel Prize recipient, former democracy icon, now at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. She is defending the actions of her country, Myanmar - in particular, the actions of Myanmar's military - against charges of genocide. This is the same military that kept her under house arrest for more than a decade. They let her out. But now she is part of the government and on their side.

This relates to Myanmar's crackdown on the Muslim minority Rohingya community in 2017. Reporter Michael Sullivan is following this story from Bangkok. He joins us via Skype. Hi there, Michael.


INSKEEP: Does Aung San Suu Kyi admit to any wrongdoing?

SULLIVAN: Nope. She says there was no genocide and that Gambia had it all wrong. Here she is opening Myanmar's defense yesterday.


AUNG SAN SUU KYI: The Gambia has placed before the court an incomplete and misleading factual picture of the situation in Myanmar.

INSKEEP: I guess we better explain. The Gambia is named here because why?

SULLIVAN: Because Gambia is the country that actually filed the petition to the court.

INSKEEP: OK. So what else does Aung San Suu Kyi say to defend against that charge?

SULLIVAN: Well, she said that Myanmar security forces had simply responded to coordinated attacks by Rohingya insurgents on some 30 Myanmar security posts and that the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya who fled were trying to get away from that fighting, not the military.

Now, Steve, I've been to these refugee camps the Rohingya fled to in Bangladesh. That's not the story I heard. And that's not what the court heard when Gambia made its presentation on Tuesday with stories of murder, of mass rape, of whole villages being destroyed - stories that have been documented by numerous rights groups and by satellite photos as well.

INSKEEP: OK. So she doesn't admit this is genocide. But does she admit the military did anything?

SULLIVAN: Maybe a little. She said it couldn't be ruled out that disproportionate force may have been used in some instances and said that was being investigated. And then she added this.


AUNG SAN SUU KYI: If war crimes have been committed by members of Myanmar's defense services, they will be prosecuted through our military justice system in accordance with Myanmar's constitution.

SULLIVAN: Which sounds good in theory, Steve, but it's a constitution drafted by the military. And it's a military justice system that takes care of its own. Here's an example. Seven soldiers, who were actually convicted of murdering 10 Rohingya in the village of Inn Din - the only convictions so far were sentenced last year to 10 years in prison for their crime. But just nine months later, they were quietly set free.

The Reuters reporters who broke the story about that massacre, they spent more time in jail than the killers before they were released. So you can see why faith in the justice system may be in short supply.

INSKEEP: Michael, we've had a lot of reporting about the Rohingya and noticed that Myanmar over time has denied their rights as citizens of Myanmar. Does Aung San Suu Kyi at least admit that they are citizens?

SULLIVAN: No. In fact, she spoke for almost half an hour yesterday and she didn't use the word Rohingya once. She did refer to the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which she called the terror group that carried out the attacks against security forces. But she didn't mention the Rohingya people at all, which is pretty much in line with how the Buddhist majority in Myanmar view the Rohingya, as interlopers, not as citizens by law.

INSKEEP: Michael, thanks for the update. Really appreciate it.

SULLIVAN: You're welcome, Steve.

INSKEEP: Michael Sullivan telling us of Aung San Suu Kyi's appearance before the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

(SOUNDBITE OF FREE FLOW FLAVA'S "KANAME TOUSEN") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.