UN human rights chief toughens rhetoric on Rakhine crisis

By REUTERS

GENEVA — The top United Nations human rights official has said he would not be surprised if a court one day ruled that acts of genocide had been committed against the Rohingya in Myanmar, according to a television interview to be shown on Monday.

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the BBC that attacks on the Rohingya had been “well thought out and planned” and he had asked State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to do more to stop the military action.

Zeid has already called the campaign “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and asked rhetorically if anyone could rule out “elements of genocide”, but his latest remarks put the case plainly, toughening his stance.

“The elements suggest you cannot rule out the possibility that acts of genocide have been committed,” he said, according to excerpts of his interview provided in advance by the BBC.

Support more independent journalism like this. Sign up to be a Frontier member.

“It’s very hard to establish because the thresholds are high,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if the court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.”

Myanmar denies committing atrocities against the Rohingya and has previously rejected UN criticism for its “politicisation and partiality”. The Myanmar military says the crackdown is a legitimate counter-insurgency operation.

Zeid said Myanmar’s “flippant” response to the serious concerns of the international community made him fear the current crisis “could just be the opening phases of something much worse”.

He told the BBC he feared jihadi groups could form in the huge refugee camps in Bangladesh and even launch attacks in Myanmar, perhaps targeting Buddhist temples there.

He did not say, in the excerpts provided, which court could prosecute suspected atrocities. Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court, so referral to that court could be done only by the UN Security Council. But Myanmar’s ally China could veto such a referral.

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.

Almost 870,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, including about 660,000 who arrived after Aug. 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts and the Myanmar army launched a counter-offensive.

U.N. investigators have heard Rohingya testimony of a “consistent, methodical pattern of killings, torture, rape and arson”.

Zeid said he had phoned Aung San Suu Kyi in January, asking her in vain to stop the the military operation.

Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on email

More stories

Latest Issue

Stories in this issue
Myanmar enters 2021 with more friends than foes
The early delivery of vaccines is one of the many boons of the country’s geopolitics, but to really take advantage, Myanmar must bury the legacy of its isolationist past.
Will the Kayin BGF go quietly?
The Kayin State Border Guard Force has come under intense pressure from the Tatmadaw over its extensive, controversial business interests and there’s concern the ultimatum could trigger fresh hostilities in one of the country’s most war-torn areas.

Stay on top of Myanmar current affairs with our Daily Briefing and Media Monitor newsletters

Our fortnightly magazine is available in print, digital, or a combination beginning at $80 a year

Sign up for our Frontier Fridays newsletter. It’s a free weekly round-up featuring the most important events shaping Myanmar