The United Nations is getting daily reports of rapes and killings of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar and independent monitors are being barred from investigating, the UN human rights office said yesterday.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a statement that the government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, had taken a “short-sighted, counterproductive, even callous” approach to the crisis, risking grave long-term repercussions for the region.
At least 86 people have been killed, according to state media, and the United Nations has estimated 27,000 members of the largely stateless Muslim Rohingya minority have fled across the border from Myanmar’s Rakhine state into Bangladesh.
“The repeated dismissal of the claims of serious human rights violations as fabrications, coupled with the failure to allow our independent monitors access to the worst affected areas in northern Rakhine, is highly insulting to the victims and an abdication of the Government’s obligations under international human rights law,” Zeid said in the statement. “If the authorities have nothing to hide, then why is there such reluctance to grant us access? Given the continued failure to grant us access, we can only fear the worst.”
“Myanmar’s handling of northern Rakhine is a lesson in how to make a bad situation worse,” he added.
Rakhine has been beset by conflict between Buddhists and the Muslim minority Rohingya for decades.
Fighting flared up again at the beginning of October when Muslim militants allegedly killed nine border guards.
Security forces have imposed “collective punishment on an entire community, with reprisals against already vulnerable Rohingya Muslims continuing more than two months after the border post attacks,” al-Hussein said.
The emergence of a well-organised and well-funded Muslim militancy behind the attacks on security forces in Rakhine could further destabilise the conflict-ridden region, the think tank International Crisis Group said this week in a report.
UN human rights spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said that the UN human rights office had submitted a formal request for access to the area, which had not yet been granted.
Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR, said that his colleagues in Bangladesh had spoken to more than 1,000 newly-arrived refugees in the past few weeks who gave accounts of houses being burned, targeting of civilians and traumatised women and children who had witnessed the killing of family members.
The UNHCR could not verify the accounts first-hand but it was extremely concerned and it urged the Myanmar authorities to investigate and the government of Bangladesh to give the refugees a safe haven, he said.
Al-Hussein said in June this year that crimes against humanity may have been committed and if the government did not handle the situation very carefully and address the grievances of the Rohingya minority, violence could ensue.
“Unfortunately this is exactly what has happened in the past couple of months,” Shamdasani added. “We are worried that this is going to get further out of hand. This is perfect breeding ground for violent extremists.”