Aung San Suu Kyi, who was once the darling of the international community, is now defending herself and her government against charges relating to genocide and ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims.
Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi faced calls for Myanmar to "stop the genocide" of Rohingya Muslims as she personally led her country's defence at the UN's top court on Tuesday.
Myanmar's civilian leader sat through graphic accounts of mass murder and rape as the west African state of The Gambia set out its case at the International Court of Justice in The Hague. She is expected to disputes claims that Myanmar tried to exterminate minority Rohingya Muslims.
Around 740, 000 Rohingya fled to neighbouring Bangladesh after a bloody crackdown by the Myanmar military in 2017 that UN investigators have already described as genocide.
Gambia launched the first bid to bring Myanmar to international justice over the bloodshed, accusing the southeast Asian nation of breaching the 1948 Genocide Convention.
"All that The Gambia asks is that you tell Myanmar to stop these senseless killings. 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," Gambia's Justice Minister Abubacarr Tambadou said in an opening statement at the tribunal, also known as the World Court.
"Another genocide is unfolding right before our eyes yet we do nothing to stop it," Tambadou added, a former prosecutor at the tribunal into Rwanda's 1994 genocide.
"Every day of inaction means more people are being killed, more women are being raped and more children are being burned alive. For what crime? Only that they were born different."
Suu Kyi, who 28 years ago today was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, is set to speak in Myanmar's defence on Wednesday. She is expected to argue that Myanmar was conducting legitimate operations against Rohingya militants and that the ICJ has no jurisdiction in the case.
Suu Kyi was once mentioned in the same breath as Nelson Mandela and Mahatma Gandhi.
The 74-year-old's international reputation has been tarnished by her silence over the plight of the Rohingya, and her defence of the same generals who once kept her under house arrest.
Thousands of people back home in Yangon rallied in support of Suu Kyi.
The case will also be watched in Bangladesh, where the Rohingya were forced to flee into sprawling camps by the bloody campaign in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state.
"I demand justice from the world," said Nur Karima, a Rohingya refugee whose brothers and grandparents were killed in a massacre in the village of Tula Toli in August 2017.
"I want to see the convicts go to the gallows. They killed us mercilessly," said Saida Khatun, another refugee from Tula Toli.
UN investigators last year branded the Rohingya crackdown genocide.
'Mass murder and rape'
The three-day hearing promises to be a historic one for the ICJ, which was set up in 1946 to adjudicate disputes between UN member states.
Muslim-majority Gambia, acting on behalf of the 57-nation Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, is due to speak on Tuesday when it will ask the court for emergency measures to stop Myanmar's "ongoing genocidal actions".
"The genocidal acts committed during these operations were intended to destroy the Rohingya as a group, in whole or in part, by the use of mass murder, rape and other forms of sexual violence," Gambia said in its submission to the court.
The move comes ahead of a wider case that could take years.
While it risks drawing further criticism abroad, Suu Kyi's decision to go to court has won plaudits in Myanmar, where the Rohingya are widely viewed as illegal immigrants.
Thousands of supporters have rallied for her at home. Fans have even booked tours to The Hague.
'Rohingyas have been wronged'
Potentially working in her favour is the fact that genocide is hard to prove in law, with ICJ judges having only once before ruled that genocide was committed, in the 1995 Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia.
Myanmar, however, 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.
Suu Kyi's appearance at the ICJ will be a far cry from her previous visits to Europe.
The daughter of Myanmar independence hero Aung San, Suu Kyi was the face of the opposition to the brutal junta after protests in 1988, earning her the nickname "The Lady", the Nobel in 1991, and plaudits abroad.
After 15 years of house arrest, the army finally freed her in 2010 and she led her party to victory in landmark 2015 elections.
But her silence over the Rohingya has led to calls for her to be stripped of her Nobel, while Canada revoked her honorary citizenship.
"The best Suu Kyi can do to restore her image in the eyes of the world is to say the Rohingyas have bee n wronged," said Abdul Malik Mujahid, an imam who heads the US-based Burmese Task Force.
"Without that, her defence will be laughable."