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How The Rohingya Community Is Reacting To Aung San Suu Kyi's ICJ Speech

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

A Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke in court this week and defended a military accused of genocide. Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi said her country's soldiers were at times brutal, but she denied that they had tried to wipe out the Rohingya, a Muslim minority.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

AUNG SAN SUU KYI: Surely, under the circumstances, genocidal intent cannot be the only hypothesis.

SHAPIRO: Suu Kyi never mentioned the Rohingya by name, nor did she directly address the charges of mass rape, murder and burning of whole villages at soldiers' hands. Yasmin Ullah is a Rohingya activist, and she was in that courtroom at the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

YASMIN ULLAH: It was quite surreal, the fact that we heard her basically defended all of the persecutions of the Rohingya by the Myanmar military. And the Myanmar as an institution was just very hard to hear and hard to watch.

SHAPIRO: Tell me about why it was hard.

ULLAH: Because I had three genocide survivors sitting beside me. You know, I could understand every word that she said, but these three people needed help with the translation and whatnot.

SHAPIRO: So you were translating her words for them?

ULLAH: I decided not to because it would be much harder for them to stomach that because it was - it's so fresh in their minds. I cannot imagine if these people were to understand what she was saying that it would it would do any good for them. So I just kept quiet and then explained to them a bit later what happened.

SHAPIRO: The survivors who were with you in the courtroom, are they living in the refugee camps in Bangladesh?

ULLAH: Yes, they're currently in the camps.

SHAPIRO: And what was their experience of the trial like, even if you did try to shelter them from some of the most upsetting testimony?

ULLAH: They were actually really, really grateful.

SHAPIRO: Grateful for what?

ULLAH: For the fact that this case even come to a trial at the International Court of Justice, that someone would acknowledge their pain, someone would acknowledge them as human, that we would actually force Aung San Suu Kyi and her government to actually listen to all of the atrocities that her military had committed against our people. She basically were forced to listen to the name Rohingya over and over and over while she herself deny it, deny our existence completely.

SHAPIRO: This woman was recently so revered by the global community. Tell me about Aung Sun Suu Kyi's role in your own family and how she's figured in your understanding.

ULLAH: My dad went and saw her while she was campaigning before her house arrest. You know, he would carry her photos around in his wallet.

SHAPIRO: Wow. He carried her photo in his wallet.

ULLAH: I didn't even earn that place, and that's (laughter) the hard part about it.

SHAPIRO: And how did your father respond to this transformation?

ULLAH: At first, he was very taken aback by it, and he was sort of giving her a little bit more excuses. But he also understands that with power comes different ways people change and corruption. So our disappointment as a community or, you know, the disappointment of my father or myself - that ship has sailed. We know, you know, who she is. And we are not surprised by what she said, especially when her counsel stood up and basically ask, you know, oh, there is not enough body counts. There is not enough people who died in comparison to other genocide that have been proven. And I just think, do we all need to die in order for that to be proven?

SHAPIRO: If you could have said something to Aung San Suu Kyi after hearing her testimony, what would you have said to her?

ULLAH: I would have said, it's very disappointing that you chose to stand with the military. But you are going to go down in the history with this name attached to you that you have defended genocide perpetrators and that you're on their side. So think carefully of what you want to do next. You have the ability as a state counsellor to do much, much more good. But if you insist to stand beside a genocide perpetrators, you are going to be remembered forever in history as a disgrace, and I don't think that you want to be that kind of person.

SHAPIRO: Yasmin Ullah, thank you for speaking with us.

ULLAH: No problem. Thank you for having me.

SHAPIRO: She's president of the Rohingya Human Rights Network, an advocacy group based in Vancouver, B.C., Canada. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.