Rohingya refugees demand justice as Security Council visits Burma, Bangladesh
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Rohingya refugees demand justice as Security Council visits Burma, Bangladesh

JUSTICE and safe repatriation to their home country were the focus of emotional pleas from Rohingya Muslims on Sunday as the United Nations Security Council toured refugee camps in Bangladesh ahead of their trip to Burma (Myanmar) this week.

Tearful women and girls threw themselves into the arms of British UN Ambassador Karen Pierce, sharing stories of gang rape and murder they endured at the hands of Burma’s military in Rakhine State.

“It shows the scale of the challenge as we try as a Security Council to find some way through that enables these poor people to go home,” Pierce said. “The sad thing is there’s nothing we can do right today that will make their distress any less.”

Pierce is one of 15 representatives on the UN Security Council who will fly from Bangladesh to Burma and meet its government on Monday. The visit is the highest-profile diplomatic mission since last year’s military crackdown that displaced 700,000 Muslim Rohingya.

SEE ALSO: The military still holds all the levers in Burma’s future

The group will meet with Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has come under criticism for her failure to condemn the situation in Rakhine state, which the UN has called a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

The Security Council envoys visited an unclaimed strip of land between Bangladesh and Burma – dubbed ‘no man’s land’ – where several thousands of displaced Rohingya are living, unable to return home. There, they heard testimony from Rohingya women telling of villages being burnt, their husbands being slaughtered and women being raped, according to France’s deputy UN representative Anne Guegen.

They later went to Kutupalong Camp in Bangladesh where over half a million refugees are currently living.

Pierce praised Bangladesh for their support of the Rohingya community, saying they have “saved thousands of Rohingya lives.” She urged the international community to commit to supporting Bangladesh and to provide assistance, especially as the upcoming monsoon season threatens to destroy the makeshift shelters.

“It’s quite overwhelming. Obviously the scale of this camp is unlike anything I’ve ever seen,” said deputy US Ambassador to the United Nations Kelley Currie. “It is going to be a disaster when the rains come.”

Hundreds of refugees lined a road in Kutupalong camp on Sunday with signs that read “we demand justice” and “protected return to protected homeland.”

“We are standing here to demand justice as they (Burma’s military) have killed our men and tortured our women so much, so we are compelled to seek justice for those abuses,” Rohingya refugee Sajida Begum told Reuters.

An agreement to repatriate displaced Rohingya was signed in November but progress has been slow with many rights groups concerned the safety of those returning to Burma cannot be guaranteed.

The Tatmadaw – another name for Burma’s military – has denied accusations of genocide and ethnic cleansing, maintaining it is carrying out legitimate response to attacks by “terrorist” Rohingya rebel groups.

SEE ALSO: Rights group alleges extortion, food shortages against Rohingya in Rakhine

The two-day trip to Burma on Monday is part of an effort by Aung San Suu Kyi’s civilian government to repair its relations with the international community after previously denying access to the affected areas.

It is unlikely to lead to any stronger council action against Burma as allies China and Russia, who each carry veto power on the council, are expected to resist any tougher measures, such as sanctions or the referral of the situation to the International Criminal Court.