National Security Adviser Refutes Ethnic Cleansing Claims as Unfounded; Bangladesh Representative Says Record Influx of Refugees ‘Untenable’
Amid an escalating crisis in northern Rakhine state in Myanmar, United Nations Secretary-General today urged its Government to end military operations, allow unfettered access to those in need, and ensure the safe and voluntary return of displaced Rohingya to their homes.
“The situation has spiralled into the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare,” said António Guterres, as he briefed the 15-member Security Council.
Since 25 August, at least 500,000 civilians had fled their homes and sought safety in Bangladesh, he said, adding that Myanmar authorities themselves had indicated that at least 176 of 471 Muslim villages in northern Rakhine had been totally abandoned. Elsewhere too, most of the abandoned villages were majority Muslim. There seemed to be a deeply disturbing pattern to the violence and ensuing large movements of an ethnic group from their homes, he said, warning that such systemic violence risked spilling over into central Rakhine, where an additional 250,000 Muslims could face displacement.
The devastating humanitarian situation was not only a breeding ground for radicalization, it also put vulnerable people — including young children — at risk of criminal elements, including trafficking, he continued. “We have received bone-chilling accounts from those who fled — mainly women, children and the elderly,” he added. Testimonials pointed to excessive violence and serious violations of human rights, including indiscriminate firing of weapons, the use of landmines against civilians and sexual violence.
The Myanmar authorities must fulfil their fundamental obligation of ensuring the safety and security of all communities and upholding the rule of law without discrimination, he stressed. United Nations agencies and non-governmental partners must be granted immediate and safe access to all affected communities, he said, expressing concern about the current climate of antagonism towards the United Nations. “Given the enormous needs, this position is deeply regrettable.”
The Rohingya had the right to a safe and voluntary return to their homes, he stressed. While the 1993 Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh and Myanmar was a good starting point in facilitating the return, it was not sufficient as it did not refer to resolving the root cause of displacement and required documents to prove residency that the fleeing Rohingya may not be able to provide. He also stressed that the displaced must not be relocated yet again to camp-like conditions.
Emphasizing the role of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State as a blueprint for the longer-term issues, he stressed that the Muslims of Rakhine must be granted nationality. In the interim, an effective verification exercise as previously foreseen must allow those entitled to be granted citizenship according to present laws. All others must be able to obtain a legal status that allowed them freedom of movement and access to labour markets, education and health services.
U Thaung Tun, National Security Adviser of Myanmar, said the assertions in the media that a campaign of terror had been unleashed in northern Rakhine and that unspeakable crimes had been committed against innocent people served as “malicious and unsubstantiated chatter”. There had been no armed clashes and clearance operations since 5 September. Rather, the recent violence was triggered by the attacks carried out by the so-called Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army terrorist group.
He said the leaders of Myanmar, who had been struggling for so long for freedom and human rights, would never espouse a policy of genocide or ethnic cleansing, and the Government would do everything to prevent it. Myanmar was one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and was home to 135 officially recognized ethnic groups. “It would be a sad commentary of our times if we allowed emotions to cloud our view and assert that what is happening in Rakhine is ethnic cleansing without first undertaking a legal review,” he underscored.
The representative of Bangladesh said, however, that violence had not ceased in northern Rakhine state, nor had the exodus of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, with an additional 20,000 entering the country in the last day. With the influx of arrivals, Bangladesh was currently hosting more than 900,000 forcibly displaced Rohingyas, he said, warning: “This is an untenable situation, to say the least”.
He also noted that the new arrivals described the use of rape as a weapon to scare families into leaving. The indiscriminate killing and torture by the Myanmar security forces, aided by vigilante groups with religious and ethnic affiliation had already been cited as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The remaining Rohingya civilians in northern Rakhine state must be guaranteed unconditional protection through the creation of a United Nations-administered “safe zone” inside Myanmar.
In the ensuing discussing, many Council members commended Bangladesh for taking in the hundreds of thousands of fleeing Rohingya and expressed support for the dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh. They also urged implementation of the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, the swift restoration of humanitarian access, and the safe and sustainable return of people to their homes. Speakers underscored that the main responsibility to protect civilians lay with the Government of Myanmar. Also urging Myanmar to cease military operations, speakers warned of the spread of strife and radicalization throughout the region.
The representative of Egypt said his delegation’s position that the Rohingya had a right to life did not mean that it supported violence of any related groups. “But it is important to ask: What choice are we leaving to these people, other than taking up arms to defend themselves?”
France’s representative said that ethnic cleaning was currently under way, warning that public discourse and other stigma could lead to even worse atrocities. He called for efforts to tackle the root causes of the violence and discrimination of the Rohingya, who had been denied citizenship for decades.
The representative of the Russian Federation warned that the international community must be very careful in labelling something genocide and ethnic cleansing, and stressed that the situation could only be resolved through dialogue among people of all nationalities and faiths.
The representative of Kazakhstan said that the lack of measures to stop the flow of the displaced into Bangladesh called into question State Counsellor State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement that clearance operations had ended on 5 September. It provided an additional rationale for dispatching a United Nations fact-finding team to provide an objective assessment of the situation in Rakhine state. He also warned that inter-ethnic and interreligious strife, as well as refugee flows, could serve as fertile ground for terrorism.
Also speaking today were the representatives of the United Kingdom, United States, Senegal, Sweden, Japan, China, Italy, Ukraine, Uruguay, Bolivia and Ethiopia.
The meeting began at 3:05 p.m. and ended at 5:17 p.m.
ANTÓNIO GUTERRES, United Nations Secretary-General, said that the escalation of the crisis in northern Rakhine state demanded action. Recalling that the situation had steadily deteriorated since the 25 August attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army on the Myanmar security forces, he reiterated his condemnation of those attacks. “The situation has spiralled into the world’s fastest-developing refugee emergency and a humanitarian and human rights nightmare,” he said, calling on the Myanmar authorities to take immediate steps to end the military operations, allow unfettered access for humanitarian support, and ensure the safe, voluntary, and sustainable return of the refugees to their homes. At least 500,000 civilians had fled their homes and sought safety in Bangladesh. Although the total number of those displaced was unknown, it was estimated that 94 per cent of them were Rohingya.
The devastating humanitarian situation was not only a breeding ground for radicalization, it also put vulnerable people — including young children — at risk of criminal elements including trafficking. “We have received bone-chilling accounts from those who fled — mainly women, children and the elderly,” he said. Those testimonials pointed to excessive violence and serious violations of human rights, including indiscriminate firing of weapons, the use of landmines against civilians and sexual violence. “This is unacceptable and must end immediately,” he stressed. International human rights law and standards were clear: any use of force by the authorities must respect Myanmar’s human rights obligations under international law and comply with well-established human rights standards. All actions must fully respect the human rights of those affected, regardless of ethnicity or religion.
Myanmar authorities themselves had indicated that at least 176 of 471 Muslim villages in northern Rakhine had been totally abandoned, he continued. In Rathedaung Township, three quarters of the Rohingya population had fled. Most villages and all three of the former internally displaced persons’ camps had burnt to the ground. Elsewhere too, most of the abandoned villages were majority Muslim. There seemed to be a deeply disturbing pattern to the violence and ensuing large movements of an ethnic group from their homes. The failure to address such systematic violence could result in a spill-over into central Rakhine, where an additional 250,000 Muslims could face displacement. The Rohingya population was outnumbered by Rakhine communities, some of whom had engaged in violent acts of vigilantism against their Muslim neighbours.
The Myanmar authorities must fulfil their fundamental obligation of ensuring the safety and security of all communities and upholding the rule of law without discrimination, he stressed. United Nations agencies and non-governmental partners must be granted immediate and safe access to all affected communities, he said, expressing concern about the current climate of antagonism towards the United Nations. The Myanmar authorities have said repeatedly in the past few days that it was not the time for unhindered access to resume. “Given the enormous needs, this position is deeply regrettable,” he said.
Council Members must urge that all those who had fled to Bangladesh be able to exercise their right to a safe, voluntary, and sustainable return to their homes, he emphasized. Myanmar authorities had committed to use the framework established in the 1993 Joint Statement of the Foreign Ministers of Bangladesh and Myanmar to facilitate those returns. While that may be a useful starting point, it was not sufficient as it did not refer to resolving the root cause of displacement and required documents to prove residency and citizenship that the fleeing Rohingya may not be able to provide.
He urged Myanmar authorities to defuse tensions and protect the rights of all communities, including respect for property rights. It was critical to avoid re-locating those displaced yet again to camp-like conditions. In Bangladesh, the United Nations continued to step up its humanitarian response and agencies had planned to visit the Bangladesh area in the next two weeks. A donor conference was planned for 9 October. He stressed the need for strengthened cooperation between Myanmar and Bangladesh, emphasizing that the crisis had generated multiple implications for neighbouring States. “We should not be surprised if decades of discrimination and double standards in treatment of the Rohingya create openings for radicalization,” he said.
The crisis had underlined an urgent need for a political solution to the root causes of the violence, he continued, adding that the core of the problem was protracted statelessness and its associated discrimination. The recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State provided a blueprint for the longer-term issues. The Muslims of Rakhine state must be granted nationality. Noting that the present Myanmar citizenship legislation only allowed it partially, he called on the Government of Myanmar to revise it in line with international standards. In the interim, an effective verification exercise as previously foreseen must allow those entitled to be granted citizenship according to the present laws. All others must be able to obtain a legal status that allowed them freedom of movement and access to labour markets, education and health services.
“I appeal to the leaders of Myanmar, including military leaders, to condemn incitement to racial hatred and violence, and take all measures to defuse tensions between communities,” he said. The United Nations would remain a close partner to Myanmar in addressing those urgent issues. “We have no agenda other than to help Myanmar advance the well-being of all the country’s people,” he added.
JONATHAN GUY ALLEN (United Kingdom) said that the world had watched in horror at the violence that had erupted over the last month. By now, all had seen reports of the extrajudicial killings, burnings of villages and the placement of landmines. Most of the victims were Rohingya Muslims, although others were also being affected. The situation was a human tragedy and an acute humanitarian crisis that had exploded at an unprecedented speed. It was becoming increasingly clear that world opinion was aligning on the issue, and it now fell to Myanmar, and its military to respond. The military bore the primary responsibility for resolving the crisis, he said, adding: “There is a way out.” The military must immediately stop the violence and ensure the protection of all civilians. The hate speech and incitement to violence must also stop and the military must uphold the rule of law.
He stressed that the authorities of Myanmar must allow full humanitarian access to Rakhine, highlighting that the current humanitarian needs vastly exceeded the capacity of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and only the United Nations and its partners could provide aid at the scale that was required. Myanmar should work with Bangladesh to establish a safe and sustainable way for those that had fled Rakhine to return home. In that context, those that have fled must be able to register themselves as refugees. He went on to urge the authorities to cooperate with the United Nations fact-finding commission that had been established by the Human Rights Council. The crisis placed a deep shadow on the history of Myanmar, as well as its leaders and military, he continued. If the leaders did not take the necessary steps, they would find themselves on the wrong side of history and the Council must be ready to act.
NIKKI HALEY (United States) said that for the last four weeks, the world had witnessed images from Myanmar of suffering that no one should be forced to endure. The United States Government had tried to engage the military of Myanmar at the highest levels and supported regional efforts to stop the violence and expand humanitarian access. Still, the exodus of the scared people of Myanmar continued while the Government failed to acknowledge the seriousness of the situation. “[Myanmar] must come to terms with the facts on the ground,” she said. The international community could not be afraid to call the actions of the Myanmar authorities exactly what they were — a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority. Such a brutal assault did not advance justice, but rather put it further from reach.
The Government of Myanmar had a responsibility to restore the rule of law and prevent attacks by citizens in its name, regardless of which individual or group was the target of such attacks, she continued. The situation had been made worse by the rhetoric coming from official military channels inside the country. The time for well-meaning diplomatic words in the Council had passed and now was the time for action. The military must respect human rights and fundamental freedoms and those accused of committing abuses should be removed from power and immediately prosecuted. The authorities must immediately allow rapid, safe and unhindered humanitarian access and work with all partners that could help get assistance to the affected communities. The Government of Myanmar must also commit to welcoming all those that had been displaced to safely return to their original homes. The risk that the conflict could spill over to other countries in the region was real. What was most frustrating about the conflict was “how we should have seen it coming”, she said.
FODÉ SECK (Senegal) said that hundreds of thousands of people, mostly children, women and the elderly, were fleeing and seeking refuge where they could, especially in neighbouring Bangladesh. He strongly condemned the violence and urged Myanmar to put an end to the human tragedy. The involvement of Bangladesh and Myanmar in today’s meeting was a testament to the transparency of discussions. “We now know much more about the deep-seeded causes of the conflict,” he continued. The Organization of Islamic Cooperation, Association of South-East Asian Nations (ASEAN) and European Union had all condemned the violence. Emphasizing the need for an independent investigation into the violations of human rights, he said that military operations must end and international law must be respected. He also welcomed the Government of Myanmar working with Bangladesh to solve the crisis, the root causes of which revolved around the issue of statelessness.
AMR ABDELLATIF ABOULATTA (Egypt) said that hundreds of thousands of innocent souls had been killed or persecuted and regional security dangerous threatened, creating a heavy burden on neighboring countries. The issue was humanitarian at heart, based on the principle of acceptance of others and coexistence with people of different beliefs and religions. Hate speech, violence or threat of use of violence could not be accepted and must be rejected, whether perpetrated by a party or Government institutions. The message to Myanmar from the international community was to end the violence and allow for humanitarian access. Egypt’s position that the Rohingya had a right to life did not mean that it supported violence of any related groups. “But it is important to ask: What choice are we leaving to these people, other than taking up arms to defend themselves?” He called on the Government of Myanmar to interact with the international community, allow for a high-level United Nations delegation to visit the Rakhine state and work to provide citizenship to the Muslim Rohingya. He also noted the condemnation of the treatment of the Rohingya community by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Al-Sharif.
OLOF SKOOG (Sweden), echoing Foreign Minister Margot Wallström’s recent description of the situation in Myanmar as a “haunting” example where the seeds of conflict continued to go unresolved, expressed concern that the total number of internally displaced persons within Rakhine state had not yet been established. While the Myanmar Government’s security operations had ended on 5 September, it was deeply worrying that reports of violence — including of the burning of Rohingya villages and violence against civilians — continued. “All violence must end,” he stressed, calling on the Government to ensure the immediate suspension of all military and security operations. It should also grant immediate, full, safe and unhindered humanitarian access to the United Nations and its partners seeking to reach those in need, and move swiftly to ensure that those who had fled the country could return to their places of origin in a safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable manner. Further urging the Government to implement the recommendations laid out in the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State’s final report without delay, he said those responsible for human rights abuses and violations, as well as other crimes, must be brought to justice.
FRANÇOIS DELATTRE (France) said that ethnic cleaning was currently under way in the west of Myanmar and that 500,000 Rohingya, mostly women and children, had fled to Bangladesh in the last month. The incitement to hatred and violence against the Rohingya existed in Myanmar today, he said, warning that public discourse and other stigma could lead to even worse atrocities. The Security Council had the responsibility of standing united and acting to break the negative spiral. Immediate efforts must concentrate on putting an end to the violence. The security forces in Myanmar must ensure protection for all, without discrimination. The authorities must also put an end to the self-proclaimed groups that went after the Rohingya. Humanitarian access must be swiftly restored. The Myanmar Government’s intention to organize a visit for diplomats and humanitarian actors to Rakhine state was a positive development. The major efforts demonstrated by Bangladesh should be welcomed and supported by the international community. Once there was an end to violence, modalities for the safe and orderly return of the refugees must be identified. Further, he called for efforts to tackle the root causes of the violence, discrimination and systematic violation of the rights of the Rohingya, who had been denied citizenship for decades.
KAIRAT UMAROV (Kazakhstan), expressing his delegation’s deep concern about the mass exodus from Myanmar, said there had unfortunately been reports of a fresh influx of 14,000 refugees crossing into Bangladesh on 24 September. The lack of measures to stop those flows called into question State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi’s statement that clearance operations had ended on 5 September, he said, adding that it provided an additional rationale for dispatching a United Nations fact-finding team to provide an objective assessment of the situation in Rakhine state. Urging the Government to suspend all military operations and end acts of persecution and discrimination against the Rohingya Muslims, as well as to provide unhindered humanitarian access, he went on to call for urgent measures to allow the Rohingya to return to their homes with safety, security, dignity and prospects for decent livelihoods. Endorsing the Organization for Islamic Cooperation’s calls to ensure inclusive and transparent citizenship verification processes for all, he also urged the Government to fully implement the recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission, and warned that inter-ethnic and interreligious strife, as well as refugee flows, could serve as fertile ground for terrorism.
KORO BESSHO (Japan) said that his country was deeply concerned by the human rights and humanitarian conditions on the ground, the allegations of killings of civilians and the fact that more than 400,000 people had been displaced to Bangladesh. Japan called for the restoration of security in a manner consistent with the rule of law and with full respect for human rights, while ensuring transparency. Japan also stressed the importance of continuous efforts to secure humanitarian access for all affected communities as soon as possible. He noted that Japan’s Parliamentary Vice-Minister for Foreign Affairs had visited Myanmar last week and conveyed the country’s deep concerns and position directly to the leaders of the Myanmar Government, including the military. Japan commended the dedicated efforts by Bangladesh in responding to the humanitarian aspects of the current situation. In that connection, Japan was providing humanitarian assistance for displaced persons in Rakhine state and in Bangladesh and had decided to provide up to $4 million in emergency assistance for those affected.
WU HAITAO (China) said that order must prevail as soon as possible and that unity among different people must be restored. Antagonism had been building for a long time, he said, noting that a series of steps had been taken to ease the situation in Rakhine state. The international community must view the difficulties and challenges facing the Myanmar Government through an objective lens. The international community must support dialogue between Bangladesh and Myanmar so that they could properly address the mass exodus of the Muslim population. As a friendly neighbour to both countries, China had provided necessary assistance for accommodating the displaced. The situation on the ground was moving towards stability, he added.
VASSILY A. NEBENZIA (Russian Federation) said that the situation was far from being resolved. According to reports, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army was guilty of killing civilians and the extremists had forced members of the Hindu communities to leave their homes and migrate with Muslims to Bangladesh. He noted the efforts of the Government of Myanmar to resolve the situation in Rakhine state and repatriate refugees from Bangladesh. He commended the efforts of Bangladesh and expressed hope that the international community would provide sizeable support to resolve the humanitarian crisis. The situation could only be resolved through dialogue among people of all nationalities and faiths. The international community must be very careful before labelling something genocide and ethnic cleansing, he continued, calling for violence and violent rhetoric from any sides to end.
SEBASTIANO CARDI (Italy) expressed concern about the appalling increase in the number of refugees over the past month. It was the Security Council’s responsibility to urgently address the situation and send a strong, unified and constructive message in line with the priorities outlined by the Secretary-General. The violence must end immediately, and in that context, he called on the authorities to stop the attacks against civilians and stressed the need for the security response to fully respect international humanitarian and international human rights law. Attacks against the Rohingya were a matter of grave concern and could not be tolerated. National authorities were responsible for protecting lives. Safe and unhindered humanitarian access must be ensured. Humanitarian agencies and donors had quickly mobilized, yet the needs on the ground exceeded the available resources and access to those in need faced major restrictions. He commended the Government of Bangladesh for keeping the borders open and its efforts in hosting the refugees. Their voluntary, safe and sustainable return would be critical, including for the stabilization of the region.
VOLODYMYR YELCHENKO (Ukraine) said that any targeting of civilians was totally unacceptable and impunity for perpetrators could not be tolerated. His delegation was particularly concerned about allegations of human rights violations having taken place during recent military operations in the province. He expressed concern about the worsening humanitarian situation and stressed the need for unhindered access of humanitarian actors to those in need. Given the dire nature of the situation, the least the Government could do would be to halt all military operations in Rakhine. He welcomed the release of the Advisory Commission’s final report and the expressions of the Myanmar Government supporting the recommendations contained within the document. Concrete steps were urgently needed, as what was doable and within reach today may not be available tomorrow. It was not too late to deliver, although it was imperative that the Council be more proactive to ensure the violence was stopped. “Nobody around this table wants to see the worst-case scenario,” he said.
LUIS BERMÚDEZ (Uruguay) said the grave crisis created by the wave of sectarian violence against the Muslim Rohingya people was alarming. Humanitarian and security conditions had seriously deteriorated. The resurgence of violence emphasized the need for true national reconciliation. He called on Myanmar to adopt measures to end impunity and investigate all violations of human rights. He urged the authorities to implement recommendations of the Rakhine Advisory Commission. Noting the deep-rooted history of the crisis, he condemned the violence of all military groups but reiterated that the main responsibility of protecting civilians fell on the Myanmar Government. Human rights must be respected, he said, calling on the Government to stop the violence, allow the return of those that had fled and facilitate unfettered access to those in need. Oppressive behaviour against the Rohingya group under the pretext of fighting terrorism risked destabilizing the region.
Mr. ZAMBRANA (Bolivia) condemned all action that exacerbated tensions and incited violence and said all such acts must be duly investigated. The Rohingya were victims but others, including Hindus, were as well. While upholding the United Nations Charter and international law, it was also important to stand by the principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States. Dialogue, consultation, mediation and negotiation were essential to resolve the crisis. He called on the Government of Myanmar to start a fruitful dialogue to stabilize the state of Rakhine and meet its obligations to protect all civilians, regardless of religion. It was critical to resolve the deep-rooted causes of the conflict, he said, adding that it was inconceivable to deny a human being nationality.
TEKEDA ALEMU (Ethiopia), Council President for September, said the situation in Myanmar was deeply worrying as it could have serious regional implications if not handled quickly and carefully. Recognizing the complex nature of the challenges in the Rakhine state, he said they could only be resolved through a solution that addressed the root causes of the violence. All forms of hate speech that incited violence must be stopped. Any acts of extreme violence were unjustifiable. The Government of Bangladesh was “already telling us” that the humanitarian situation had become grave, he continued, urging the end of military operations. He stressed the need to ensure an acceptable level of mutual trust between the Myanmar Government and the United Nations. The role of diplomacy must never be overlooked. He commended the initial steps by the Government of Myanmar to ensure implementation of the Advisory Commission’s recommendations. Cooperation with Bangladesh and ASEAN neighbours was also vital to restore regional stability.
U THAUNG TUN, National Security Adviser of Myanmar, said that assertions in the media that a campaign of terror had been unleashed in northern Rakhine and that unspeakable crimes had been committed against innocent people only served to heighten the concern of the international community. “While such assertions may appear reasonable at first glance to a lay observer, experts with knowledge of the history of Myanmar and exposure to the propaganda tactics of terrorists will see such comments for what they were — malicious and unsubstantiated chatter.” Nevertheless, his Government understood the concern of the international community and took serious note of it.
The Government recognized there was a serious problem that needed to be addressed, he said. The recent violence was triggered by the attacks carried out by the so-called Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army terrorist group. His country was committed to a sustainable solution that would lead to peace, stability, development and the return of displaced communities to their homes. The Government had strongly condemned the acts of terror committed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in northern Rakhine and would work to ensure that the fight against terrorism would not distract from the commitment to bring peace, harmony and development to Rakhine. The Government was striving to restore normalcy, he said, adding: “There have been no armed clashes and clearance operations since 5 September.”
He stressed that there was no ethnic cleansing and genocide in Myanmar. “It would be a sad commentary of our times if we allowed emotions to cloud our view and assert that what is happening in Rakhine is ethnic cleansing without first undertaking a legal review and making a judicial determination,” he underscored. The leaders of Myanmar, who had been struggling for so long for freedom and human rights, would never espouse a policy of genocide or ethnic cleansing, and the Government would do everything to prevent it. Myanmar was one of the most ethnically diverse countries in the world and was home to 135 officially recognized ethnic groups. Muslims were not a minority in northern Rakhine, comprising 95 per cent of the total population. Although there had been an exodus, more than 50 per cent of the Muslim villages in northern Rakhine remained intact. Representatives of the diplomatic corps, accompanied by the media, would visit northern Rakhine on Monday to have the opportunity to witness first-hand the situation on the ground.
The Government of Myanmar was fully aware of its primary responsibility to address the humanitarian situation and was concerned about reports that thousands of people had crossed into Bangladesh, he said. Villagers had voiced their concerns regarding the availability of humanitarian assistance and had revealed they felt threatened and concerned about retaliation by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army after a large number of Hindu villagers were massacred and buried in mass graves. Myanmar was prepared to start the verification process for the repatriation of refugees who had fled into Bangladesh. Myanmar’s stated willingness to discuss the issue of repatriation countered the assertion that there was a policy of ethnic cleansing on the part of the Government. The new Government in Myanmar inherited a challenging situation in Rakhine and had to deal with the consequences of actions by other actors.
MASUD BIN MOMEN (Bangladesh) said that since 25 August, nearly 500,000 people had entered Bangladesh, fleeing violence in northern Rakhine state. Despite serious constraints, Bangladesh had given shelter to those distressed Rohingyas, most of whom were women and children. Bangladesh was providing those forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals with basic and emergency humanitarian assistance and was conducting biometric registration of all those that arrived in the last month. With the influx of arrivals, Bangladesh was currently hosting more than 900,000 forcibly displaced Rohingyas, he said, warning: “This is an untenable situation, to say the least.”
Despite claims to the contrary, violence had not ceased in northern Rakhine state, nor had the exodus of Rohingyas to Bangladesh, he said. A day ago, an additional 20,000 entered into Bangladesh. The new arrivals described the use of rape as a weapon to scare families into leaving. The indiscriminate killing and torture by the Myanmar security forces, aided by vigilante groups with religious and ethnic affiliation, had already been cited as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. The remaining Rohingya civilians in northern Rakhine state must be guaranteed unconditional protection through the creation of a United Nations-administered “safe zone” inside Myanmar. Humanitarian assistance must reach affected communities.
He pointed to the “baseless and malicious propaganda” to project Rohingyas as “illegal immigrants from Bangladesh” as a blatant denial of the ethnic identity of the Rohingyas. “This has to stop,” he declared. The new narratives of “Muslims killing Muslims” or “Muslims killing Hindus” should be viewed as the State’s failure or rejection of its primary responsibility to protect its civilians. Allegations and counter-allegations of various forms of atrocities must be fully investigated by the Security Council. The Council should also take into account that more than two divisions of armed forces had been deployed by Myanmar in areas near the Bangladesh border since the beginning of August. Further, there had been 19 reported incidents of Bangladesh’s air space being violated by Myanmar helicopters and drones and anti-personnel mines had reportedly been laid along the border to prevent the return of Rohingyas to Myanmar.
Bangladesh continued to exercise utmost restraint in the face of such repeated, unwarranted and wilful provocations, he said. As a responsible and responsive State, Bangladesh would forge ahead seeking a peaceful and lasting solution to the situation through diplomacy, dialogue and cooperation. Bangladesh also looked forward to immediately start working with Myanmar and the international community to help implement the recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State and ensure the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of all those displaced from Myanmar into the territory of Bangladesh, including the most recent arrivals. The forcibly displaced Myanmar nationals should return to their original abodes in safety, security and dignity.