The U.N.’s human rights chief said Wednesday he strongly suspects Myanmar has committed “acts of genocide” against the Rohingya, as his office warned of continued ethnic cleansing of the country’s Muslim minority.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a speech to the U.N.’s Human Rights Council that the reported bulldozing of mass graves showed a “deliberate attempt by the authorities to destroy evidence of potential international crimes, including possible crimes against humanity.”
His comments came after his colleague Andrew Gilmour, U.N. Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, said Tuesday that Myanmar’s ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya was continuing through a systematic campaign of “terror and forced starvation.”
Speaking after meeting with Rohingya who had recently arrived in refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, Gilmour said the nature of the campaign had changed since Myanmar’s military launched its brutal crackdown six months ago, driving hundreds of thousands to flee across the border.
“The nature of the violence has changed from the frenzied bloodletting and mass rape of last year to a lower-intensity campaign of terror and forced starvation that seems to be designed to drive the remaining Rohingya from their homes and into Bangladesh,” he said.
He said the ongoing persecution of the Rohingya meant that any potential return of the refugees was impossible at present, despite Myanmar’s claims it was ready to begin accepting returning refugees.
“The government of Myanmar is busy telling the world that it is ready to receive Rohingya returnees, while at the same time its forces are continuing to drive them into Bangladesh,” he said.
“Safe, dignified and sustainable returns are of course impossible under current conditions.”
James Gomez, Amnesty International’s regional director, backed the U.N.’s assessment.
“There is no question that the Myanmar authorities’ vicious campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya is still ongoing. Fleeing Rohingya told us how they are still being forcibly starved in a bid to quietly squeeze them out of the country,” he said,
“This is yet more evidence that any plans for organized repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh are extremely premature. No one should be returned to Myanmar until they can do so voluntarily, in safety and dignity – something that is clearly not possible today.”
Some 700,000 people have fled into Bangladesh since August, joining 200,000 who had already taken refuge in the camps during a previous wave of violence.
Despite extensive evidence to the contrary, Myanmar's military has denied committing abuses, apart from one incident in which it said security forces were involved in the killing of 10 unarmed Rohingya. It says its military operation has been a legitimate response to target Rohingya militants who fatally attacked police posts in August.
It denies that the Rohingya, a long disenfranchised Muslim minority in the predominantly Buddhist country, legitimately belong in Myanmar, where the campaign against the group has widespread support.
Cover image: A Rohingya refugee child at Cox's Bazar refugee camp in Bangladesh on January 27, 2018. (Masfiqur Sohan/NurPhoto via Getty Images)