GENEVA – The systematic and widespread repression to which the Myanmar army has subjected Muslim Rohingyas has all the characteristics of a genocide, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid bin Ra’ad said on Tuesday.
“Considering the decades of statelessness as well as systematic and systemic discrimination against the Rohingya; policies of segregation, exclusion and marginalization; long-standing patterns of violations and abuses (...) given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” said Zeid.
“There are credible indications that these violent campaigns have targeted Rohingyas because they are Rohingyas – on an ethnic or religious basis, and possibly on both grounds,” he added.
The High Commissioner was the first speaker at a special session by the UN Human Rights Council on Tuesday to discuss the crisis faced by the Rohingyas, a mostly Muslim minority community that has been living in northern Myanmar for centuries but is not recognized as citizens by the authorities, and are therefore considered stateless.
In late August, Rohingya rebels attacked police and army checkpoints to which the Myanmar army responded with a violent campaign, forcing the exodus of over 626,000 Rohingyas from Rakhine state to neighboring Bangladesh.
Zeid said that the most recent brutal crackdown was the latest example of the discrimination that the community has faced for decades.
“The Rohingya community (...) has endured a progressive intensification of discrimination over the past 55 years – and more in the last five years than in the previous 50 all together,” he said.
He added that incitement to hatred and violence against the community is widespread, and that there has been no reaction from the authorities to prevent it.
He noted that as the Rohingya are mostly undocumented, they cannot vote or form political parties, they cannot attend schools or university, and they have no access to medical treatment, leading to severe maternal and child mortality rates.
Zeid condemned the Burmese authorities for not allowing the UN access to Rakhine, and highlighted that due to the lack of transparency, observers are unable to properly gauge the severity of the situation.
A total of 1,622 Rohingyas have been registered in Bangladeshi refugee camps since Nov. 26, indicating that the exodus continues.
The escape route has become even more dangerous than usual due to reports of the army placing landmines on the Myanmar-Bangladesh border possibly to prevent refugees from returning.
Zeid thus warned that no repatriations can be organized to Myanmar from Bangladesh as long as the conditions of repression and systematic discrimination persist.