The UN Security Council said Wednesday they were shocked to see in person the misery engulfing hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who were ousted from their homes in Myanmar and now languishing in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
“Members of the Security Council were struck by the scale of the humanitarian crisis and remain gravely concerned by the current situation,” read the press statement issued after the ambassadors visited refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar and met with activists and officials, including State Counsellor and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi.
UN officials and activists estimate that more than 670,000 Rohingya have been displaced by a scorched-earth policy of removal of the minority group from Rakhine State since August, a campaign that human rights advocates as recently as Tuesday said include the burning of villages, mass rape and murder as techniques of ethnic cleansing.
Last month, UN Secretary-General António Guterres appointed Christine Schraner Burgener of Switzerland a special envoy on Myanmar.
On Tuesday, four prominent human rights groups — Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Fortify Rights and the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect — called on the Security Council to refer the crisis to the International Criminal Court, which could prosecute individuals for crimes against humanity and genocide.
“We all believe . . . that based upon the facts and the law that the situation in Myanmar should be referred to the International Criminal Court,” said Param-Preet Singh, associate director, international justice for Human Rights Watch, at a news conference before the UN Correspondents Association in Manhattan on Tuesday. “We have found that Myanmar’s security forces and military have committed crimes against humanity against the Rohingya population including forced deportation, murder, rape and persecution.”
Savita Pawnday, deputy executive director of the Global Centre for the Responsibility to Protect said, after visiting the camps last month, her group concluded that “crimes against humanity and possible acts of genocide have been committed against the Rohingya.”
Matthew Smith, co-founder and chief executive director of Fortify Rights, said the Security Council should go further than referring the case to the world court that prosecutes war criminals.
“We’re calling upon the Security Council to implement a global arms embargo on Myanmar and targeted sanctions against those who are responsible for mass atrocity crimes,” he said.
Smith said that Aung San Suu Kyi, who received the Nobel Peace Prize for her nonviolent struggle for democracy and human rights in Myanmar, is now “a part of the problem” because she has denied the allegations against Myanmar military forces and done little to stop the carnage.
Amnesty International’s senior director for international law and policy, Tawanda Mutasah, said his group had viewed satellite imagery, photos and interviewed victims to conclude that the case must go to the court “for justice to be done, for accountability to be secured.” Myanmar’s legal institutions lack the credibility to handle the cases, he added.
The Security Council thanked Bangladesh for absorbing so many refugees but also called on Myanmar to help make repatriation of refugees as smooth as possible — and to hold accountable perpetrators of crimes.
“The members of the Security Council in light of the importance of undertaking transparent investigations into allegations of human rights abuses and violations, urge the government of Myanmar to fulfill, based on respect for the rule of law, its stated commitment to holding accountable perpetrators of violence, including sexual violence and abuse and violence against children,” read the press statement.