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Thousands of Rohingya Continue to Flee Violence in Myanmar

FILE - Rohingya girls carry firewood on their heads as they make their way through Kutupalong refugee camp, June 28, 2018, in Bangladesh.
FILE - Rohingya girls carry firewood on their heads as they make their way through Kutupalong refugee camp, June 28, 2018, in Bangladesh.

U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein reports thousands of Rohingya refugees continue to flee violence and persecution in Myanmar. Speaking Wednesday before the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva, he presented a grim assessment of the situation of the Muslim minority in the country’s Rakhine state.

In his presentation, Zeid accused the authorities in majority-Buddhist Myanmar of trying to whitewash their treatment of the Rohingya people. In recent months, he says Myanmar has challenged allegations its security forces have engaged in an ethnic cleansing campaign that has sent more than 700,000 Rohingya refugees fleeing to Bangladesh.

He said Myanmar authorities also are trying to convince the world they are willing to allow the refugees to return to their homes and that it is safe for them to do so. Zeid disputes these assertions. He says he has evidence that the few people who have returned to Rakhine of their own accord have been imprisoned and ill-treated.

Since the start of this year, Zeid said more than 11,400 Rohingya have arrived in Bangladesh from Myanmar and more continue to flee. He said dozens of others have departed by boat for Malaysia and Indonesia, and some reportedly having died en route.

“All the newly arrived refugees who have been interviewed by OHCHR [Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights] described continuing violence, persecution and human rights violations, including killings and the burning of Rohingya homes.... No amount of rhetoric can whitewash these facts. People are still fleeing persecution in Rakhine - and are even willing to risk dying at sea to escape,” he said.

Zeid urged the U.N. Security Council to refer Myanmar to the International Criminal Court to investigate all allegations of crimes against humanity and genocide perpetrated against the Rohingya.

Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Myanmar, Kyaw Moe Tun, tore into Zeid’s statement, calling it flawed, full of incomplete and misleading information. He blamed the deteriorating security situation in northern Rakhine on attacks against the government by ARSA, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, which he calls a terrorist group. He said his government was setting up a Commission of Inquiry to look into allegations of abuse against the Rohingya.

High Commissioner Zeid said Myanmar indulges in what he called a “pattern of investigative whitewash."