Treatment of Rohingya May Contain Elements of Genocide — UN Official

A Rohingya boy in Malaysia in 2012

The persecution of Rohingya by Myanmar's security forces may amount to genocide, the United Nations human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein has said.

Zeid said some about 626,000 Rohingya have fled since August, and many more are continuing to pour into Bangladesh. Myanmar's army says it has been targeting Rohingya militants.

"Refusal by worldwide as well as local actors to even name the Rohingyas as Rohingyas - to recognise them as a community and respect their right to self-identification - is yet another humiliation, and it creates a shameful paradox: they are denied a name, while being targeted for being who they are", Zeid said Tuesday.

He listed alleged abuses against the Rohingya, including "killing by random firing of bullets, use of grenades, shooting at close range, stabbings, beatings to death and the burning of houses with families inside". "Can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?" he told the 47-member state forum.

Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh's junior foreign affairs minister, told the session in Geneva that his country was hosting almost one million "Myanmar nationals" following summary executions and rapes "as a weapon of persecution".

Up until this point, United Nations officials have described the crisis as "ethnic cleansing" but the term genocide would increase pressure on officials in Myanmar. Zeid asked. "Ultimately, this is a legal determination only a competent court can make".

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"But the concerns are extremely serious, and clearly call for access to be immediately granted for further verification". Considering also that Rohingyas self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture, and are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group.

Some worldwide legal experts argue that once a situation is defined as genocide, the UN Security Council is then obliged to intervene. But individuals are infrequently charged with genocide, and component crimes, including murder, forced deportation, torture, and sexual violence, can also be classified as ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, which have not been specifically defined under worldwide law and therefore aren't prosecutable. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson issued a stern condemnation last month after traveling to Myanmar, saying that the campaign "constitutes ethnic cleansing" and those who perpetrated atrocities "must be held accountable".

Myanmar's government rejects the term Rohingya, labelling the community "Bengalis". On the other hand, Myanmar government has refused to recognise Rohingya as one of the country's ethnic minorities and described them as Bengalis or illegal immigrants from neighbouring country- Bangladesh.

The global community has praised Bangladesh for taking in the refugees but its plan to move some of them to Thengar Char has been met with biting criticism. After the latest wave of arrivals it now hosts more than a million Rohingya.

Burma's ambassador to the rights council, Htin Lynn, said that his government was working with Bangladesh to ensure returns of the displaced in about two months and "there will be no camps".

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