Myanmar junta set to answer Rohingya genocide charges at UN court

Deposed leader Aung San Suu Kyi will not be attending second round of preliminary hearings in The Hague

Aung San Suu Kyi addresses judges of the International Court of Justice in 2019 during preliminary hearings on alleged genocide against Myanmar's Rohingya minority. AP

Myanmar’s junta will answer charges of genocide against Rohingya Muslims at the UN's top court on Monday without deposed civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi on its legal panel.

Ms Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, presented her country’s arguments at the International Court of Justice when the case was first heard in December 2019, but was ousted as civilian leader in a military coup last February.

She is now under house arrest by the same generals she defended in The Hague.

In its “preliminary objections” on Monday, Myanmar is expected to argue that the court has no jurisdiction over the case and seek to have it dismissed.

Myanmar media said the junta's new team will be led by International Co-operation Minister Ko Ko Hlaing and Thida Oo, the attorney general, who will attend virtually.

Both have been sanctioned by the US over the coup.

There are questions over whether Myanmar's military rulers should even be allowed to represent the South-east Asian nation.

The case brought by Gambia, a Muslim African nation, accuses predominantly Buddhist Myanmar of breaching the 1948 UN genocide convention in the violent military purge of the Rohingya in 2017.

About 850,000 Rohingya are languishing in camps in neighbouring Bangladesh while another 600,000 remain in Myanmar's south-western Rakhine state.

Gambia's case is backed by the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Co-operation, as well as Canada and the Netherlands. It is expected to present its counterargument on Wednesday.

The ICJ was set up after the Second World War to rule on disputes between UN member states. Its judgments are binding but it has no real means to enforce them.

The coup that ousted Ms Suu Kyi and her civilian government has complicated the Rohingya case at the ICJ.

Before the hearing, the shadow National Unity Government dominated by members of Ms Suu Kyi's ousted party said it, not the junta, was “the proper representative of Myanmar at the ICJ in the case".

It also rejects Myanmar's preliminary objections and says the hearings for these should be cancelled and the court in the Netherlands should quickly get down to the hearing of the substantive case.

The NUG holds no territory, has not been recognised by any foreign government, and has been declared a terrorist organisation by the junta.

Ms Suu Kyi herself now faces trial in Myanmar on a string of charges that could lead to a jail sentence of more than 150 years.

More than 1,500 civilians have died in the military's repression of mass protests against the coup, a local monitoring group has said.

Updated: February 21, 2022, 11:14 AM