Two leading human rights groups on Tuesday slammed the UN Security Council for inaction over the crisis in Myanmar, where 370,000 Rohingya Muslims have been forced to flee in a campaign described as ethnic cleansing.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International deplored the council’s failure to speak out and demand an end to the violence in western Rakhine State as the top UN body prepared to hold a closed-door session on Wednesday.
Britain and Sweden requested the meeting on Myanmar, two weeks after the council met, also behind closed doors. No formal statement was issued following that meeting on August 30.
“This is ethnic cleansing on a large scale, it seems, and the Security Council cannot open its doors and stand in front of the cameras? It’s appalling frankly,” HRW’s UN director Louis Charbonneau told reporters.
The exodus from Rakhine state began after Rohingya militants attacked police posts on August 25, prompting a military backlash that has sent a third of the Muslim minority population fleeing for their lives.
Exhausted Rohingya refugees crossing into Bangladesh have given accounts of atrocities at the hands of soldiers and Buddhist mobs who burned their villages to the ground.
“Without some sort of public proclamation by Security Council members, the message you are sending to the Myanmar government is deadly, and they will continue to do it,” said Sherine Tadros, head of Amnesty International’s UN office.
Other than condemning the violence, the council could adopt a resolution threatening sanctions against those responsible for the repression, said Human Rights Watch.
Rakhine still burning
Since the council last met on Myanmar, 310,000 Rohingyas have fled violence and been forced to become refugees, said HRW’s deputy UN director Akshaya Kumar.
Kumar quoted reports from HRW researchers in the field who said Rakhine state was “still on fire” with hundreds of destitute Rohingyas continuing to cross into Bangladesh.
At the meeting on Wednesday, China is expected to push back against appeals for UN involvement and declare its support for the Yangon government, which maintains its military operation is aimed at countering an insurgency.
Last week, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres took the rare step of writing a letter to the council urging members to send a message to Myanmar authorities to end the security operation.
Guterres spoke to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi last week and is expected to once again make an appeal to end the crisis during a press conference at UN headquarters on Wednesday, his spokesman said.
Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International said they were disappointed with Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize laureate and once a darling of the rights movement who has been accused of turning a blind eye to the violence.
“Silence is not helping the fact that we have a growing xenophobic rhetoric and climate which is whirling around Yangon at the moment,” said Tirana Hassan, Amnesty’s crisis response director.
“We need to see leadership from her to actually de-escalate and not remain silent.”
The United Nations set up a fact-finding mission in March to investigate allegations of atrocities in Rakhine State, but the investigators have not been allowed into the country.
Myanmar’s second vice president, Henry Van Thio, will attend next week’s gathering of world leaders at the United Nations and is due to deliver his address at the General Assembly on September 20.