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Suu Kyi’s Appearance in ICJ to Defend the Military: Nationalism Overkill

Published Dec 10, 2019
Updated Feb 06, 2020

Deep sense of nationalism, electoral gains or winning support of the military, what is behind Aung Suu Kyi’s appearance in the Hague today.

In a decision that has been hailed by the majority Burman community in the country, Myanmar State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is in The Hague defending the Tatmadaw or the Myanmar Army from genocide charges at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).

This is the second time that Myanmar is facing the flak in the ICJ, though in the first instance in 2009 rights groups, as per a report in the Irrawaddy demand to the UN Security Council to initiate action to bring Myanmar’s junta leaders, including the then head of the ruling State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), Senior General Than Shwe, before the International Criminal Court did not see the light of the day. However, the SPDC reviewed the Constitution and put a quasi-military government in power while allowing Aung Suu Kyi and the National League for Democracy (NLD) to form the government in 2015.

Yet Suu Kyi is battling parliamentarians nominated by the military for bringing in constitutional reforms which will provide her more leeway in officially assuming greater government authority since denied due to her late husband being a British citizen.

It was thus not surprising that as per the Irrawaddy, “only civilian leaders saw her off at the airport in Naypyitaw, and her government has not taken representatives from the military to The Hague, as requested by the army”.

The appearance of the State Counsellor and foreign minister at the Hague has however been largely welcomed by the Burman majority.

“We are proud of her taking accountability… by going to The Hague to protect the nation’s image,” shouted prominent writer Htin Lin Oo into a microphone in front of a banner emblazoned with the words “We stand with our leader”. “Our blood shall come together and unite us when it is important,” he shouted to a cheering crowd, who hoisted colourful artwork of Suu Kyi in the air.

Importantly that the country has been charged with genocide has escaped the attention of the majority community with the lawsuit brought by Gambia, a Muslim West African state that alleges Myanmar breached the UN’s Genocide Convention with its bloody 2017 crackdown on the Rohingya.

On the face of it, Suu Kyi’s plans to appear at the ICJ on behalf of the country risks her personal reputation internationally as a Nobel laureate after the flak she has faced for her silence as thousands of Rohingya streamed into Bangladesh.

Yet she seems to have wagered on winning public approval over her move with elections a year away for the parliament in Myanmar in November 2020.

Political observers in Myanmar however claim that this is unnecessary as the NLD continues to remain hugely popular in the country despite the middling political and economic performance.

Perhaps it is the deep nationalist sentiment in her that has led her to take this extreme step as no head of state (be it ex-officio) appears in a case in the ICJ.