According to the UN Human Rights Council, more than 400,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State in recent weeks.
They are pouring into neighbouring Bangladesh with reports that they were driven from their villages by military forces who attacked them in their homes and burned vast swathes of territory. Satellite images have shown that close to 200 Rohingya villages have been destroyed and emptied, the Council revealed on Tuesday.
An international fact-finding mission established by the UN Human Rights Council has dispatched a team to Bangladesh, where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have arrived during the past month and taken refuge in makeshift camps.
A Human Rights Council resolution in March 2017 called on the international fact-finding mission to establish the facts and circumstances of alleged human rights violations and abuses in Myanmar, particularly in Rakhine State.
“It is important for us to see with our own eyes the sites of these alleged violations and abuses and to speak directly with the affected people and with the authorities,” Marzuki Darusman, chairperson of the fact-finding mission, said in his recent update to the Human Rights Council at its 36th session in Geneva.
Emphasizing that the fact-finding mission is mandated to review the situation of human rights in all of Myanmar, Darusman added, “I take this occasion to reiterate our request to the Government of Myanmar for cooperation, most importantly by granting us access to the country.”
Reports of human rights violations in the most recent attacks against the Rohingya include killings of civilians, torture, rape and other forms of sexual violence, and the burning and destruction of entire villages.
Myanmar authorities say the military operation is a response to attacks by Rohingya militants on 30 police posts. The operation has driven more than a third of Myanmar’s original population of 1.1 million Rohingya across the border into Bangladesh, according to UN estimates, joining the tens of thousands already there from earlier rounds of violence.
Darusman urged Myanmar authorities to allow immediate access to humanitarian relief agencies.
“Putting aside our eventual findings, which I would not wish to pre-empt, it is clear to us that there is a grave humanitarian crisis underway that requires urgent attention,” he told the Council.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, in his address to the 36th session of the Human Rights Council, told Member States, “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.”
The Advisory Commission on Rakhine, led by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, noted in a report issued in August 2017 that successive Myanmar governments have since 1962 progressively stripped the Rohingya population of their political and civil rights, including citizenship rights, rendering many of them stateless.
While the Rohingya have inhabited Myanmar’s western coastal state of Rakhine for generations, the predominantly Muslim minority is not recognised officially as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups. Over the last several decades, ongoing violence and persecution have driven hundreds of thousands of Rohingya to neighbouring countries.
“I call on the Government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population,” Zeid said.
Darusman urged the international community to support his call to Myanmar authorities to grant his fact-finding team access into the country.
“The hundreds of thousands of refugees, internally displaced people, affected communities, and all victims of the alleged human rights violations and abuses, deserve a truthful account of what happened and who is responsible,” Darusman told the Human Rights Council.
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