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UN Human Rights Council condemns violations against Rohingya

Myanmar's security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya minority, the UN's top human rights official said before a special session of the UN Human Rights Council. People are still fleeing their homes.

Helping a Rohingya refugee out of the Naf River at the border with Bangladesh

The UN Human Rights Council has condemned systematic violations against Rohingya communities in Myanmar and called on the government to ensure justice for victims and access to Rakhine state for investigators and aid workers. The statement was endorsed by 33 member states in favor and three against - including China. There were nine abstentions.

Speaking before the special session of the UN Human Rights Council called by Bangladesh, the High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said that despite a deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh, still more people of the Rohingya Muslim minority were fleeing their homes. 

"Given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?" he asked.

He said that none of the 626,000 Rohingya who have fled to Bangladesh since August should be repatriated unless there was robust monitoring on the ground.

Rohingya refugees walking through Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh.

Rohingya refugees walking through Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh

Zeid urged the Council to recommend that the UN General Assembly establish a new mechanism "to assist individual criminal investigations of those responsible."

Shahriar Alam, junior foreign affairs minister, told the session in Geneva on Tuesday that nearly
one million "Myanmar nationals" had sought refuge in Bangladesh following summary executions and
rapes "as a weapon of persecution."

These crimes had been "perpetrated by Myanmar security forces and extremist Buddhist vigilantes," Alam said, calling for an end to what he called "xenophobic rhetoric... including from higher echelons of the government and the military."

Myanmar denial

Myanmar Ambasador Htin Lynn rejected the allegations and said his government was working with Bangladesh to ensure returns of the displaced in about two months. "There will be no camps," he said.

While not using the name Rohingya, the ambassador said any "dehumanization" of people in Myanmar "could be an act of extremist individuals."

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His defense came in response to a UN fact-finding mission that is examining "in depth" allegations that genocide or crimes against humanity were committed against the Royhingya minority.

Marzuki Darusman, the head of the UN fact-finding mission, told the council via video conference that his investigators had "not yet come to any conclusion on these issues."

Read more: Myanmar army clears itself of wrongdoing

In cold blood

Zeid described "concordant 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."

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Special meetings of the UN's Human Rights Council are rare as they require a request of at least a third of its 47 member states - 16 countries.

Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia requested the council session and it won the support of 33 council members and more than 40 observer states.

After months of difficult negotiations, Myanmar and Bangladesh signed a deal in late-November to begin repatriating refugees within two months. 

Pramila Patten, special representative of the Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict, who interviewed survivors in Bangladesh in November, said: "I heard the most heart-breaking and horrific accounts of sexual atrocities reportedly committed in cold blood out of a lethal hatred of these people solely on the basis of their ethnicity and religion."

bik/jm (AP, AFP, Reuters)

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