Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is defending her country from charges of genocide, saying there is “no tolerance” for human rights violations against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The Nobel Peace laureate is appearing before the UN’s highest court for a hearing into allegations that a 2017 military campaign against the Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state amounted to genocide.
She said the case brought against her country was “incomplete and misleading”.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh during the campaign, which has been described as ethnic cleansing involving mass rapes, killings and the torching of homes.
Most of the Rohingya now live in crowded refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The case before the UN’s International Court of Justice was launched by Gambia, which has a predominantly Muslim population, in November.
Gambia has accused Buddhist-majority Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.
On Tuesday lawyers for the country detailed graphic testimony of suffering of Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar military, as Ms Suu Kyi listened on impassively.
“Gambia has placed an incomplete and misleading picture of the factual situation in Rakhine state in Myanmar,” she told the court on Wednesday.
She said the troubles in Rakhine state “go back centuries”.
Ms Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 for championing human rights under Myanmar’s then-ruling junta, is defending those who once held her under house arrest.
It marks an extraordinary fall from grace from a woman once held as a pro-democracy symbol.
Myanmar has previously said the campaign in Rakhine was a legitimate counter-terrorism operation following attacks on the security forces by Rohingya militants.
It is only the third genocide case filed at the International Court of Justice since World War Two.
The other two relate to crimes in the former Yugoslavia: the Srebrenica massacre of Bosnia’s Muslim population in 1995 and the accusations of genocide between Croatia and Serbia during the Croatian war of secession.
The campaign against Rohingya Muslims explained
The tribunal, also known as the World Court, has no enforcement powers, but its rulings are final and have significant legal weight.