The violence and injustice faced by the ethnic Rohingya minority in Myanmar “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, the UN human rights chief has said.
Speaking at the start of a UN Human Rights Council session, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein first recognised the 11 September attacks anniversary then chronicled human rights concerns about Myanmar.
He also spoke about rights concerns in Burundi, Venezuela, Yemen, Libya and the United States, where he expressed concerns about the Trump administration’s plan to dismantle protection for younger immigrants, many of whom have lived most of their lives in the US.
Mr Zeid, who is a Jordanian prince, denounced the fact that “another brutal security operation is under way in Rakhine state – this time, apparently on a far greater scale”.
He noted the UN refugee agency says 270,000 people from Myanmar, also known as Burma, have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh in the past three weeks, and pointed to satellite imagery and reports of “security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages” and committing extrajudicial killings.
“The Myanmar government should stop pretending that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” he added.
He called it a “complete denial of reality” that hurts the standing of Myanmar, a country that had until recently – by opening up politics to civilian control – enjoyed “immense good will”.
“Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” he said, adding that he was “further appalled” by reports that Myanmar’s military is planting landmines along the border.
Aside from Myanmar, Mr Zeid said the council should consider “the need to exclude from this body states involved in the most egregious violations of human rights”, although he did not specify the countries by name.
Human rights advocacy groups have cited Burundi and Venezuela in particular as countries with lamentable rights records that have seats on the 47-member rights council created by the UN.
Mr Zeid lamented how the world has grown “darker and more dangerous” since he took office three years ago.
Syria and Iraq, two countries that have long been of concern to UN human rights chiefs, received only passing mention in his address – a testament to the broad concerns about today’s world.
Meanwhile, Bangladesh has agreed to free land for a new camp to shelter some of the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya Muslims who have fled Myanmar, an official said yesterday.
The new camp will help relieve some pressure on existing settlements in the Bangladeshi border district of Cox’s Bazar.
“The two refugees camps we are in are beyond overcrowded,” said UN refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan.
Other new arrivals were being sheltered in schools, or were huddling in makeshift settlements with no toilets along roadsides and in open fields.
Basic resources were scarce, including food, clean water and medical aid.
Prime minister Sheikh Hasina offered 2,000 acres near the existing camp of Kutupalong “to build temporary shelters for the Rohingya newcomers”, according to a Facebook post yesterday by Mohammed Shahriar Alam, a junior minister for foreign affairs.
He also said the government would begin fingerprinting and registering the new arrivals yesterday.
Hasina is scheduled to visit Rohingya refugees today.