0322 GMT March 29, 2020
Myanmarese Nobel peace prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday admitted that Myanmar Army may have used excessive force in its crackdown on Rohingya Muslims, but defended military generals against a long list of atrocities including genocide charges.
"It cannot be ruled out that disproportionate force was used by members of the defense services in some cases in disregard of international humanitarian law, or that they did not distinguish clearly enough between fighters and civilians," she told the International Court of Justice (ICJ), AFP reported.
The Nobel peace laureate, speaking during three days of hearings at the International Court of Justice, challenged allegations in a lawsuit brought by Gambia last month accusing Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention.
Suu Kyi admitted there may have been civilian casualties including some killed when a helicopter opened fire.
But she argued these were an inevitable part of the conflict.
She rejected the "misleading and incomplete" allegations by The Gambia that Myanmar's 2017 military operation amounted to an attempt to exterminate the Rohingya Muslims.
Thousands of people were killed and raped, and around 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh after the Myanmar military launched a huge offensive that it claimed was in response to attacks by local militants.
United Nations investigators have said 10,000 people may have been killed.
Once hailed worldwide as a rights icon for her defiance of Myanmar's junta, Suu Kyi was this time on the side of the generals when she opened the majority-Buddhist nation's defense at the ICJ in The Hague.
"Regrettably, The Gambia has placed before the court a misleading and incomplete picture of the situation in Rakhine state," said Suu Kyi, wearing traditional Burmese dress and flowers in her hair.
Addressing judges in the wood-paneled courtroom, the 74-year-old said Myanmar was dealing with an "internal armed conflict" in the southwestern state where the atrocities took place.
"Please bear in mind this complex situation and the challenge to sovereignty and security in our country when you are assessing the intent of those who attempted to deal with the rebellion," she said.
"Surely under the circumstances genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis."
UN investigators last year concluded that Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya Muslims amounted to genocide while rights groups have detailed a catalogue of alleged abuses.
The Gambia, a small West African state that is mainly Muslim, filed an application in November accusing Myanmar of breaching the 1948 genocide convention and asking the court to take emergency measures to stop further violence.
Myanmar was undertaking its own investigations and "if war crimes have been committed", then its justice system would deal with them, Suu Kyi added.
Rights groups said Suu Kyi’s statement contradicted evidence on the ground and witness accounts. Her remarks “fly in the face of all the evidence gathered by the UN, and the testimony our own teams have heard from countless survivors,” said George Graham, director of humanitarian advocacy at Save the Children
Last year, Myanmar’s military announced seven soldiers involved in a massacre of 10 Rohingya men and boys in the village of Inn Din in September 2017 had been sentenced to “10 years in prison with hard labor in a remote area”. They were granted early release after less than a year in the prison.