Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi today denied "genocidal intent" as she defended Myanmar's military operation against Rohingya Muslims in the UN's top court.
Addressing judges in The Hague, Myanmar's civilian leader admitted that the army may have used "disproportionate force" but said that did not prove it was trying to wipe out the minority group.
Once a champion of human rights, Suu Kyi said, "Regrettably, the Gambia has placed an incomplete, misleading factual picture of the situation in Rakhine state."
She also added that "genocidal intent" cannot be the only hypothesis in the case of Myanmar.
"Can there be genocidal intent on the part of the state that actively investigates, prosecutes and punishes soldiers and officers, who are accused of wrongdoing? Although the focus here is on members of the military, I can assure you that appropriate action will be taken on civilian offenders, in line with due process," she said at the UN's top court today.
She said the situation in Rakhine state was "complex" as she acknowledged the "suffering" of the Rohingya minority, which had many of whom have fled to safety in Bangladesh.
But she repeatedly termed a bloody crackdown in 2017 as an "internal conflict", saying Myanmar's military were responsing to attacked by armed local groups, such as the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA).
The day 2 hearing began at 3pm (Bangladesh time) on the accusations of mass killings, rape, and expulsion of the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rakhine State of Myanmar.
On the first day of the hearing, Gambia's legal team described mass rapes, the burning of families in their homes and killing of dozens of Muslim Rohingya children with knives as it set out its genocide case against Myanmar.
"All that Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings," Gambia's Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said in opening comments in the hearing.
"To stop these acts of barbarity and brutality that have shocked and continue to shock our collective conscience. To stop this genocide of its own people," he told the court.
Suu Kyi listened impassively on Tuesday as lawyers for Gambia detailed graphic testimony of suffering of Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar military.
Gambia, a small West African country, launched a case against Myanmar at the International Court of Justice, the UN's highest court, alleging it has violated the 1948 Genocide Convention.
In three days of hearings this week, judges are hearing the first phase of the case: Gambia's request for "provisional measures" - the equivalent of a restraining order against Myanmar to protect the Rohingya population until the case is heard in full.
More than 730,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar after the military-led crackdown and were forced into squalid camps across the border in Bangladesh.
The UN investigators concluded the military campaign was executed with "genocidal intent".
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.