The United Nations top human rights official announced on December 5 that Myanmar’s security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority.
The United Nations defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare under international law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and an Islamic State campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that none of the 626,000 Rohingya who have fled violence to Bangladesh since August should be repatriated to Myanmar unless there was robust monitoring on the ground.
Myanmar’s ambassador, Htin Lynn, said his government was working with Bangladesh to ensure returns of the displaced in about two months and “there will be no camps”.
Zeid, who has described the campaign in the past as a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”, was addressing a special session of the UN Human Rights Council called by Bangladesh.
He described reports of “acts of appalling barbarity committed against the Rohingya, including deliberately burning people to death inside their homes, murders of children and adults; indiscriminate shooting of fleeing civilians; widespread rapes of women and girls, and the burning and destruction of houses, schools, markets and mosques”.
“Can anyone – can anyone – rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” he told the 47-member state forum.
According to Reuters, Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s junior foreign affairs minister, told the session in Geneva that his country was hosting nearly one million “Myanmar nationals” following summary executions and rapes “as a weapon of persecution”.
Mainly Buddhist Myanmar denies the Muslim Rohingya are its citizens and considers them foreigners.
Marzuki Darusman, head of an independent international fact-finding mission on Myanmar, said by video from Malaysia: “We will go where the evidence leads us.”
His team has interviewed Rohingya refugees, including children in the Bangladeshi port city of Cox’s Bazar, who recounted “acts of extreme brutality” and “displayed signs of severe trauma”.
Crimes included “rape, gang rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity”, Patten said.
According to Reuters, Myanmar denies committing atrocities against the Rohingya. Its envoy Htin, referring to the accounts, said: “People will say what they wanted to believe and sometimes they will say what they were told to say.”