Geneva: The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said on Tuesday that an act of genocide against Rohingya Muslims by state forces in Myanmar cannot be ruled out.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein was speaking at a Human Rights Council session in Geneva where he listed alleged abuses against the Rohingyas, including “killing by random firing of bullets, use of grenades, shooting at close range, stabbings, beatings to death and the burning of houses with families inside”, the BBC reported.
More than 600,000 Rohingyas have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape Myanmar’s military crackdown in late August in response to multiple attacks on government posts by Rohingya rebels.
Zeid said no Rohingya should be sent back unless there was sustained human rights monitoring on the ground.
He condemned the Myanmar authorities for not allowing the UN access to Rakhine and highlighted that due to the lack of transparency, observers were unable to properly gauge the severity of the situation.
“Considering the decades of statelessness as well as systematic and systemic discrimination against the Rohingyas, policies of segregation, exclusion and marginalization; long-standing patterns of violations and abuses (…) given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” said Zeid.
“There are credible indications that these violent campaigns have targeted Rohingyas because they are Rohingyas — on an ethnic or religious basis, and possibly on both grounds,” he added.
Myanmar’s ambassador to the rights council Htin Lynn denied atrocities had taken place and said his government and Bangladesh were working to ensure the return of displaced people.
“There will be no camps,” he told the emergency session. Htin Lynn added that UN agencies would be involved but stopped short of guaranteeing the immediate, unimpeded access to Myanmar for UN investigators.
Zeid said the most recent brutal crackdown was the latest example of the discrimination that the community has faced for decades.
“The Rohingya community (…) has endured a progressive intensification of discrimination over the past 55 years — and more in the last five years than in the previous 50 all together,” he said.
He added that incitement to hatred and violence against the community is widespread and that there has been no reaction from the authorities to prevent it.
He noted that as the Rohingya are mostly undocumented, they cannot vote or form political parties, they cannot attend schools and they have no access to medical treatment.
Until now, UN officials, including Zeid, have described the violence in northern Rakhine state as “textbook ethnic cleansing”.
According to reports, the escape route for Rohingyas has become even more dangerous than usual due to reports of the Army placing landmines on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border possibly to prevent refugees from returning.
Zeid thus warned that no repatriations can be organised to Myanmar from Bangladesh as long as the conditions of repression and systematic discrimination persist.