Ardent fans of Myanmar de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi are snapping up spots on $2,000 tours to The Hague, in a display of moral support as Myanmar faces charges of genocide over the Rohingya crisis at the UN’s top court this month.
Supporter rallies, billboards and outpourings of praise online followed the shock announcement by the country’s civilian leader that she would personally represent Myanmar at the International Court of Justice (ICJ).
The once-lauded democracy champion will be defending the 2017 military crackdown against the Rohingya minority.
One travel operator is organising a five-day tour to The Hague that includes visa and transportation as part of a $2,150 package, said employee Ma July – a prohibitive rate for most in the developing nation.
Social influencer Pencilo and well-known TV presenter Mg Mg Aye are among the 20 or so people to have already signed up.
“I believe this is our duty as citizens,” Pencilo, 29, said on Friday, urging any of her 1.1 million Facebook followers who have the means to do the same.
“It’s important the world knows her compatriots are fully behind her.”
West African nation Gambia will open its case at the ICJ on December 10 on behalf of the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC).
The Muslim-majority country alleges Myanmar breached the UN’s Genocide Convention through bloody “clearance operations” against its Rohingya community two years ago.
Some 740,000 Rohingya fled into sprawling camps in Bangladesh, bringing with them accounts of widespread murder, rape and arson – violence UN investigators branded as genocide.
The crisis has left Nobel Peace Laureate Suu Kyi’s reputation in the West in tatters – the UN team accused her of complicity – although allies China, India, Russia and Japan have been largely silent on the issue.
But she remains highly revered in Myanmar where there is little sympathy for the Muslim minority, who are regarded as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Some 3,000 supporters flocked to a rally on Sunday in the central city of Monywa and more are planned.
Billboards have also started to appear. One in eastern Myanmar says “We stand with you”, below a beaming Suu Kyi with three military-appointed ministers looking jovial – all super-imposed over a picture of the ICJ building.
Even Israel’s ambassador to Myanmar Ronen Gilor was controversially swept up in the news last week.
He wished Myanmar good luck and expressed his hopes for a “good” decision in tweets that were later taken down and described as an error by the Israeli foreign ministry.
At the December hearings, the ICJ is expected to rule on interim measures in order to prevent further genocide and the destruction of any additional evidence.
Myanmar says the crackdown was justified to root out Rohingya militants and insists its own committees are investigating abuse allegations, although rights groups dismiss them as an effort to whitewash atrocities.
In stark contrast to the torrent of patriotism, three of Myanmar’s armed rebel groups – the MNDAA, TNLA and AA – on Thursday announced their support for the genocide case.
They have been locked in long-running civil wars against the military as they fight for more autonomy for their respective ethnic groups.
Accusing the army of committing “genocide, extrajudicial arrest and inhuman torture” against many ethnic groups over decades, the trio vowed in a statement to cooperate and collect evidence of war crimes.
The ICJ case will be the first of several international legal attempts to bring Myanmar to justice over the Rohingya crisis.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) – another Hague-based tribunal – is investigating the Rohingya crisis and rights groups have filed a third lawsuit in Argentina in which Suu Kyi was personally named.