THE UNITED NATIONS’ most senior human rights official has labelled the situation of Rohingya Muslims in Burma (Myanmar) a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” pulling no punches in his criticism of Aung San Suu Kyi’s government amid a humanitarian crisis.
Addressing the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was “appalled” by the Burmese military’s “disproportionate” response to Rohingya militancy in the restive Rakhine State.
Al Hussein condemned reports of security forces burning Rohingya villages, extrajudicial killings, and shooting civilians attempting to flee, regarding violence since Aug 25 sparked by attacks on police and military posts that killed at least 12 Burmese officials.
“Last year, I warned that the pattern of gross violations of the human rights of the Rohingya suggested a widespread or systematic attack against the community, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity, if so established by a court of law,” he said.
“Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Burma’s government has denied access to a UN mission seeking to investigate human rights abuses and has repeatedly accused international NGOs of aiding the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) militant group which it brands “extremist Bengali terrorists.”
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) released a statement on Monday calling for Burma to cooperate with the UN Fact Finding Mission. The ARSA called a ceasefire via Twitter on Saturday, in which it also urged the Burmese government to cooperate with the UN’s investigation.
During his speech on Monday, Al Hussein also criticised the Tatmadaw military of Burma over reports it is laying landmines along the border with Bangladesh, as well as the Burmese government’s announcement that refugees will only be allowed back into the country if they can provide “proof of nationality”.
International aid agencies working on the ground in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh announced on Sunday that an estimated 313,000 people had fled into the country from Burma. Officials in Naypyidaw have claimed that Rohingya have destroyed their own villages including burning their own homes.
“This complete denial of reality is doing great damage to the international standing of a government which, until recently, benefited from immense good will,” Al Hussein said.
Al Hussein encouraged Bangladesh to keep its borders open to Rohingya and cooperate with international agencies. Over the weekend, Bangladesh’s government said that 3,000 Rohingya had been killed in Burma and that the situation was comparable to genocide.
He also said he “deplore[d]” India’s recent announcement that it would deport 40,000 Rohingya Muslims it deems “illegal” immigrants, regardless of their UNHCR refugee status.
India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi last week completed a state visit to Burma amid violence in the Rakhine, in which he expressed his shared concern over “extremist violence” with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi.
“India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations,” said Al Hussein.