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Rohingya Lawyer Reacts To Myanmar Genocide Trial

Dec 13, 2019
Originally published on December 13, 2019 10:34 am
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NOEL KING, HOST:

Nobel Peace Prize recipient Aung San Suu Kyi appeared before the International Court of Justice in The Hague this week. She was there to defend her country, Myanmar, against the charge that it committed genocide against its Muslim Rohingya minority. Around 700,000 Rohingya people fled from the country in 2017 after a brutal military crackdown.

Wai Wai Nu is a Rohingya activist and lawyer. She was at the trial this week. Her family's run-ins with the military go back years. When she was 18, her family was put in prison because her dad opposed the military junta that was running the country at the time. She told me about the seven years she spent in prison.

WAI WAI NU: It is really horrifying experience every morning and every night. Every time when I wake up, I pray for to be dark, to - you know, to sleep again. You know, when I sleep, I forget that I am in the prison. So I was, like, every morning, I pray to become night and to go to the bed. But there was no bed. We just slept on the floor, and it was extremely hard to survive. Living conditions was very poor.

But more importantly, it was very hard for me because I was a university student. I wanted to go back to the university. And also feeling of injustice - you know, you are treated as criminal, although without necessarily committed any crime, without being guilty of any crime. That's - that feeling is really, really strong.

KING: You heard Aung San Suu Kyi's testimony. She argued that the legal case was incomplete and misleading. She was asked whether she would acknowledge any violence against the Rohingya, and she said it couldn't be ruled out that disproportionate force may have been used in some instances. And then she said this.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

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.

KING: So she's saying, let's not make this an international matter. Let Myanmar handle it ourselves. What do you make of that argument?

NU: The case here is not just about 2017 and 2016 clearance operations. It's about systematic and - systematic policies and practices that has been introduced against their Rohingya populations just because who they are. The policies and practice of genocidal act were there since the beginning, since 1995 or even before that. So we're not talking just about excessive use of force. It's systemic use of force and systemic destructions of the community.

KING: It'll be a while before the court in The Hague hands down a verdict. What will justice look like? What would justice look like for the Rohingya in this case?

NU: What we want is this outcome from this court will lead to the actual punishment of the perpetrators of genocide and impunity, (unintelligible) of impunities by the military in Myanmar. And we all hope that it will lead to the substantial policies reform and prevention of genocide in Myanmar, as well as it will lead to the restoring all the rights, including some citizenship rights and all other civil and political rights of the Rohingya, including safe and secure and dignified return of the refugees to their places of origin, to their villages.

KING: Wai Wai Nu is a Rohingya activist. She joined us from The Hague.

Thank you so much for being with us.

NU: Thank you so much, too. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.