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Statement by Assistant Secretary-General for Human Rights, Mr. Andrew Gilmour, at the Arria Formula meeting on the situation in Myanmar, New York, 13 October 2017

The current crisis in Rakhine, which at this moment in time is quite possibly the most acute human rights crisis in the world, may have been triggered by attacks by Muslim militants. But it has been decades in the making, through the systematic discrimination against the Rohingya population, in particular denial of their human rights to citizenship, freedom of movement, and access to healthcare, education and livelihoods. Mr. Annan’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State has been clear on that and set a compelling vision for the way forward.

On Wednesday, OHCHR issued a report indicating that violations committed against the Rohingya in the aftermath of the 25 August attacks were executed in a well-organised, coordinated and systematic manner by Myanmar security forces, often supported by armed Rakhine Buddhists. As High Commissioner Zeid has put it, this seems a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”, and the Government’s actions appear to be a “cynical ploy to forcibly transfer large numbers of people without possibility of return”. The comments of the Commander-in-Chief of Myanmar, widely reported just yesterday, certainly suggest the accuracy of the High Commissioner’s analysis.

Entire Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground, the inhabitants killed by gunfire or burned to death in their homes. Women and girls – some as young as 5 – raped by men in army uniforms in front of their families. I have neither the time nor the stomach to give you the details. But the brutality of the violations reported is truly shocking. Yet this is not new. OHCHR documented similar patterns and tactics by security forces just last October. And also in 1978 and 1991, large-scale, heavy-handed military government operations drove hundreds of thousands of Rohingya into Bangladesh. Operations in recent weeks have been on an even wider scale.

To date, there is no real progress either in holding the perpetrators of serious violations accountable, or in addressing the root causes underlying the situation in Rakhine. Hence the urgent need for Member States to help the new civilian Government break past cycles of violence, and create conditions for the return of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

The UN Human Rights Office suggests the following key priorities: 
  • First, for the Myanmar military to end the security “clearance” operations and ensure the protection of all communities, without discrimination, and for the Government to take decisive measures to address the savage incitement of hatred against the Rohingya. 
  • Second, unfettered access for human rights monitors is required. The Government should be urged to cooperate with the Human Rights Council’s Fact-Finding Mission. 
  • Third, accountability for past and present allegations of human rights violations is critical to break the recurrent cycle of violence, and assist a path towards reconciliation. 
  • Fourth, a genuine commitment to address root causes, in particular citizenship and legal status for the Rohingya, freedom of movement, and equal access to services. 
Thank you.