Human rights campaigners supporting Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim minority called for a global boycott of the country, a day before genocide hearings began at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.
Myanmar leader and Nobel Peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who arrived in the Netherlands on Dec. 8, will defend her country’s record during three days of hearings — beginning Dec. 10 — initiated after a lawsuit was filed by Gambia in November.
The Netherlands and Canada put out a joint statement on Dec. 9 in support of Gambia, the tiny, mainly Muslim West African country that filed the suit in which the Buddhist-majority Myanmar is accused of genocide against its Rohingya Muslim minority.
“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.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017 after a military-led crackdown. The United Nations has said the campaign was executed with “genocidal intent” and included mass killings and rape.
Myanmar authorities have strongly disputed that conclusion, categorizing the military operation as a legitimate counterterrorism response to attacks by Rohingya militants.
During three days of hearings, Gambia’s legal team will ask the 17-member panel of U.N. judges at the ICJ to impose “provisional measures” to protect the Rohingya before the case can be heard in full.
Suu Kyi’s office said last month that she would lead her country’s team in The Hague to “defend the national interest”.
Several demonstrations are planned during this week in The Hague by Rohingya survivor groups, as well as by government supporters.
The Free Rohingya Coalition said in a statement it was starting the “Boycott Myanmar Campaign” with 30 organisations in 10 countries. It called on “corporations, foreign investors, professional and cultural organizations to sever their institutional ties with Myanmar”.
In the sprawling Bangladeshi camps where they now live as refugees, some Rohingya said they were praying to see justice delivered. One man read aloud to a group from a newspaper article about the hearings.
In her tent, 31-year-old Momtaz Begum shed tears as she recalled how soldiers locked her in her house in northern Rakhine State and set fire to the roof. She escaped to find her three sons dead and her daughter beaten and bleeding, she said.
“The army killed my husband,” she said. “They raped me and torched my house, they stabbed my 6-year-old daughter in the head. Why did they kill our innocent people, our kids? Why did they torture and rape our women?” she asked
“We demand justice.”
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.
In Myitkyina, the capital of Kachin State in northern Myanmar near the border with China, hundreds of people marched in support of Suu Kyi.
More demonstrations are planned in the major cities Yangon and Mandalay when the hearings begin.