GENEVA (Reuters) – Myanmar’s security forces may be guilty of genocide against the Rohingya Muslim minority and more of them are fleeing despite a deal between Myanmar and Bangladesh to send them home, the top U.N. human rights official said on Tuesday.
The United Nations defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare under international law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and an Islamic State campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.
Zeid Ra‘ad al-Hussein, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights, said that none of the 626,000 Rohingya who have fled violence to Bangladesh since August should be repatriated to Myanmar unless there was robust monitoring on the ground.
Myanmar’s ambassador, Htin Lynn, said his government was working with Bangladesh to ensure returns of the displaced in about two months and “there will be no camps”.
Zeid, who has described the campaign in the past as a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”, was addressing a special session of the U.N. Human Rights Council called by Bangladesh.
He described 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”.
“Can anyone – 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 nearly one million “Myanmar nationals” following summary executions and rapes “as a weapon of persecution”.
Mainly Buddhist Myanmar denies the Muslim Rohingya are its citizens and considers them foreigners.
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”.
Zeid urged the Council to recommend that the U.N. General Assembly establish a new mechanism “to assist individual…