TOP UN OFFICIAL PREDICTS COURT RULING OVER MYANMAR REFUGEES

THE top UN Human Rights official has said he would not be surprised if a court one day ruled that acts of geno­cide had been committed against the Rohingya Muslim minority in Myanmar, according to a television inter­view shown on Monday (18).

UN high commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al- Hussein told the BBC that attacks on the Rohingya had been “well thought out and planned” and he had asked Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi to do more to stop the military action.

Zeid has already called the campaign “a textbook exam­ple of ethnic cleansing” and asked rhetorically if anyone could rule out “elements of genocide”, but his latest re­marks put the case plainly, toughening his stance.

“The elements sug­gest you cannot rule out the possibili­ty that acts of genocide have been commit­ted,” he said, according to excerpts of his interview pro­vided in advance by the BBC.

“It’s very hard to establish because the thresholds are high,” he said. “But it wouldn’t surprise me in the future if the court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we see.”

Myanmar denies committing atrocities against the Roh­ingya and has previously rejected UN criticism for its “po­liticisation and partiality”. The Myanmar military says the crackdown is a legitimate counter-insurgency operation.

Zeid said Myanmar’s “flippant” response to the serious concerns of the international community made him fear the current crisis “could just be the opening phases of something much worse”.

He told the BBC he feared jihadi groups could form in the huge refugee camps in Bangladesh and even launch attacks in Myanmar, perhaps targeting Buddhist temples there.

He did not say, in the excerpts provided, which court could prosecute suspected atrocities. Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court, so referral to that court could be done only by the UN security council. But Myanmar’s ally China could veto such a referral.

The UN defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a na­tional, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare under international law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and a Daesh (Islamic State) campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.

Almost 870,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh, in­cluding about 660,000 who arrived after August 25, when Rohingya militants attacked security posts and the Myan­mar army launched a counter-offensive.

UN investigators have heard Rohingya testimony of a “con­sistent, methodical pattern of killings, torture, rape and arson”.

Disease, hunger and misery stalk the Rohingya living in Bangladesh’s refugee camps, but despite the grinding hard­ship, few are willing to consider the alternative – returning home under a deal struck with Myanmar.

The arrangement signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in November to start repatriating refugees within two months is viewed with deep suspicion and dread by Rohingya still traumatised by the violent expulsion from their homeland.

“They make deals, but they won’t follow them,” said Ro­hingya refugee Mohammad Syed. “When we go back, they will torture and kill us again.”

Their fear is not misplaced. Doctors Without Borders said last Thursday (14) that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of a Myanmar army crackdown on rebels in Rakhine state that began in August.

Aid groups have warned Myanmar they would boycott any new camps for Rohingya returnees, saying refugees must be allowed to settle in their own homes and not forced into ghetto-like conditions.

Bangladesh has been praised for opening its borders as waves of Rohingya civilians fled army reprisals and Buddhist mobs. But the government has always maintained that the refugees would one day return, tussling for months with Myanmar over the terms of repatriation deal. (Reuters, AFP)