Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the case brought against her country at the World Court was “incomplete and misleading” as she began her defense to accusations of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority on Wednesday.
The African state of Gambia has taken Myanmar to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) over a bloody 2017 military crackdown in which thousands of people were killed and around 740,000 Rohingya fled to neighboring Bangladesh.
Once hailed internationally for her defiance of Myanmar's junta, Suu Kyi was this time on the side of the southeast Asian nation's military when she took the stand.
Leading Myanmar’s defense herself at the court in The Hague Suu Kyi acknowledged disproportionate force may have been used at times by the military, but said the conflict in the western Rakhine state was “complex and not easy to fathom”.
She argued that the army was responding to an attack by hundreds of Rohingya militants in 2017.
She said that Myanmar was undertaking its own investigations, adding: "Surely under the circumstances genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis."
Suu Kyi had listened impassively on Tuesday as lawyers for Gambia detailed graphic testimony of suffering of Rohingya at the hands of the Myanmar military.
Gambia accuses Myanmar of breaching the 1948 genocide convention and has asked the court to take emergency measures to stop further violence.
UN investigators last year concluded that Myanmar's treatment of the Rohingya amounted to genocide while rights groups have detailed a catalogue of alleged abuses.
Suu Kyi however said that the court, set up in 1946 to rule on disputes between member states, had not confirmed genocide in cases of mass expulsions of civilians in the 1990s Balkans war.
Around 250 pro-Myanmar protesters gathered in front of the International Court of Justice, carrying placards with Suu Kyi's face reading "We stand with you" and carrying pictures of the leader.
Meanwhile, a small group of pro-Rohingya supporters were also gathered at the court, shouting: "Aung San Suu Kyi, shame on you!" Another lone protester was holding up a poster of one of Myanmar´s generals, saying "Wanted for Mass Murder."
Gambian Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou, who opened his country's case, said it would be "extremely disappointing" if Suu Kyi repeated her previous denials of wrongdoing by Myanmar.
He urged the court to tell he to "stop the genocide".
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.
Gambia has argued it is every country’s duty under the convention to prevent a genocide from taking place. Gambia has political support from the 57-member Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Canada and the Netherlands.
The legal threshold for a finding of genocide is high. Just three cases have been recognized under international law since World War Two: In Cambodia in the late 1970s; In Rwanda in 1994; and at Srebrenica, Bosnia, in 1995.
Although a United Nations fact-finding mission found that “the gravest crimes under international law” had been committed in Myanmar and called for genocide trials, no court has weighed evidence and established a genocide in Myanmar.
Aung San Suu Kyi was once mentioned in the same breath as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi, having won the Nobel in 1991 for her resistance to Myanmar's brutal junta.
After 15 years under house arrest, she was freed in 2010 and led her party to victory in elections in 2015.
But her defense of the same military that once kept her locked up has since caused international condemnation.
Myanmar meanwhile faces a number of legal challenges over the fate of the Rohingya, including a probe by the International Criminal Court -- a separate war crimes tribunal in The Hague -- and a lawsuit in Argentina personally mentioning Suu Kyi.