It’s ‘ethnic cleansing’ in Myanmar

Rohingya Muslim refugees protesting at human rights violations in Burma during a protest in New Delhi
Picture: Prakash Singh/AFP

UN human rights chief, Dalai Lama join outcry over treatment of Muslim group

Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was under growing international pressure yesterday after the UN’s top human rights official accused her government of textbook ethnic cleansing and the Dalai Lama criticised Buddhist nationalist attacks on Myanmar’s Rohingya ethnic minority.

UN high commissioner for human rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said Myanmar seemed to be carrying out a systematic attack on civilians designed to expel the mainly Muslim minority from the predominantly Buddhist country.

“Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, the situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” Zeid told the UN Human Rights Council.

Hundreds of thousands of Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh in the past two weeks after violence flared in neighbouring Myanmar, where the stateless Muslim minority has endured decades of persecution.

Zeid’s condemnation came as the Dalai Lama also spoke out for the first time about the crisis, saying Buddha would have helped Muslims fleeing violence.

“Those people who are harassing some Muslims, they should remember Buddha,” the Dalai Lama told journalists who asked him about the crisis on Friday evening.

“He would definitely give help to those poor Muslims. So still I feel that.”

Aung San Suu Kyi

The growing international outrage condemning the violent treatment of the Rohingya has reportedly made little impact on Myanmar’s military who were still threatening to burn down villages, human rights activists said.

Burmese Rohingya Organisation president Tun Khin said he had received multiple calls yesterday from desperate residents in Buthidaung, Rakhine state, who said soldiers had threatened to kill them and burn down their homes if they remained. “They [military] are telling villagers ‘we will kill all of you, we will burn all the villages’,” he said.

“The villagers are asking if the international community can do anything.”

Myanmar says it is carrying out counter-terrorist operations in Rakhine state against the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a militant group that carried out a series of deadly attacks on border guard posts on August 25.

At least 313 000 Rohingya refugees had fled Myanmar since violence flared on August 25, the Inter Sector Coordination Group coordinating the relief operation said.

The figure means at least 400 000 people, or more than a third of the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya population of Rakhine state, have entered Bangladesh since a previous outbreak of violence in October.

The foreign ministry of Bangladesh said on Sunday that at least 3 000 people had been killed in a campaign of genocide.

Tens of thousands more are believed to be on the move inside Rakhine state after more than two weeks without shelter, food and water.

Many are believed to be trapped on the Myanmar side of the Naf river – because they are unable to afford exorbitant fares charged by boatmen operating at crossing points.

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