YANGON — The UN human rights chief said yesterday that attempts to “whitewash” atrocities against the Rohingya would not absolve Myanmar of its crimes and called for the country’s immediate referral to the International Criminal Court.
High commissioner for human rights Mr Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein slammed Myanmar’s denial of allegations that its security forces have engaged in an “ethnic cleansing campaign” against the Rohingya, which has led to the flight of over 700,000 people to Bangladesh since August 2017.
Myanmar says its military “clearance operations” were a legitimate response to attacks on police posts by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militants.
Zeid called this misleading, given the cycles of violence and human rights abuses that long pre-date ARSA, and the concomitant campaign to erode the legal personality and rights of the Rohingya, which he said has steadily intensified.
Speaking to the UN Human Rights Council yesterday, Zeid also contested Myanmar’s claim that it is ready to welcome the return of refugees; almost a year since violence restarted, not a single Rohingya refugee has returned under the formal framework agreed with Bangladesh.
He said most, if not all, of those who returned voluntarily have been detained. Meanwhile, thousands of Rohingya continue to flee Rakhine State: as of mid-June, the UN has counted 11,432 new arrivals in Bangladesh this year.
Those interviewed by the UN described continuing violence, persecution and human rights violations, including killings and disappearances, Zeid said.
“No amount of rhetoric can whitewash these facts. People are still fleeing persecution in Rakhine – and are even willing to risk dying at sea to escape.”
Replying to the rights chief, Myanmar’s representative to the United Nations U Kyaw Moe Tun said that finding a solution is one of the government’s top priorities.
He said “distorted or exaggerated” information in Zeid’s report could prompt “false memories, which can cause unjust convictions” and warned that if UN member states were misled into making “wrong decisions” it would negatively affect the shared goal of finding sustainable solutions.
“The root cause of the tragedy was terrorism and terrorism cannot be condoned under any circumstance,” he said, adding that Myanmar would not condone human rights violations.
With the arrival of the monsoon season, Myanmar is doing its utmost to repatriate “verified displaced persons” to avoid another humanitarian disaster, Kyaw Moe Tun continued, saying he hoped the recent signing of a memorandum of understanding between the government and two UN agencies would expedite the process.
Zeid said in his report that Myanmar’s sincerity towards the repatriation process “will not be measured by the number of agreements it signs and the committees it establishes, but by its recognition that the Rohingya are citizens with the same rights that are enjoyed by other citizens”.
Citing a pattern of “investigative whitewashing” he said there was every reason to believe that another internal inquiry “will again seek to whitewash the terrible crimes which have occurred”.
“Myanmar must grasp that the international community will not forget the outrages committed against the Rohingya, nor will it absolve the politicians who seek to cover them up,” he said, calling for immediate access for independent investigators and UN Special Rapporteur Ms Yanghee Lee, who is barred from entering the country.
He urged the UN Security Council to “immediately” refer Myanmar to the ICC and to establish a “new international, impartial and independent mechanism complementary to the fact-finding mission, to assist the criminal investigation of individual perpetrators”.
Zeid said he also “deplored” the failure to include the Rohingya in discussions on their own future, and the failure of certain members of the international community to uphold the community’s right to self-identify as Rohingya.
“Refusal to name the Rohingya as such, including in official documents and statements – even at this Council – adds disrespect to the terrible violations they have suffered,” he said.