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UN Human Rights Council condemns Burma over Rakhine situation

An overview of the UN Human Rights Council is seen in Geneva, Switzerland, on 6 June 2017. (Photo: Reuters)

The UN Human Rights Council voted Tuesday to condemn the alleged rights violations perpetrated by Burmese security forces against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State, in a vote of 33 in favour and three against. Nine nations abstained.

China joined the Philippines and Burundi in objecting to the resolution, in keeping with previous statements Beijing has made in support of Burma’s handling of the situation in Rakhine State. Attacks by Rohingya militants in the north of the state on 25 August prompted a fierce counter-insurgency campaign that the UN Human Rights Council’s top official has described as a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing.”

Burma “disassociated” itself from Tuesday’s resolution, much as it had done to a previous motion by the council that established a fact-finding mission to probe the human rights allegations.

In a strongly worded rebuke of the resolution’s supporters, Burma said, “Some elements of the resolution infringed on the sovereignty of Myanmar and others were far from the truth.”

It added that “the complexity of the issues in Rakhine State [is] immense, and the international community must get a better understanding of the situation there.”

Since late August, more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled northern Rakhine State to Bangladesh, bringing with them tales of horrific violence allegedly carried out by Burmese security forces. The government and military deny any widespread abuses have taken place.

Ahead of Tuesday’s vote, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the council that the situation faced by the Rohingya Muslim minority might constitute genocide.

“Can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” he said.

“Ultimately, this is a legal determination only a competent court can make. But the concerns are extremely serious, and clearly call for access to be immediately granted for further verification.”

Burma has refused to allow the UN fact-finding mission, which was established in March, to enter the country.

“We cannot afford to hear that historical and tragic refrain, one more time, that no one knew it would turn out to be like this — what a lie that would be,” said Zeid, who has been among the most high-profile critics of security forces’ conduct in Rakhine State.

Amnesty International praised the UN Human Rights Council’s resolution on Tuesday.

“The adoption of today’s resolution demonstrates the broad international concern about the hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people so brutally impacted by the ongoing crimes against humanity in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. By voting against it, China and others showed how woefully out of step they are with world opinion on the crisis,” said the London-based human rights organisation.

“China has the diplomatic, humanitarian and economic resources to make a real difference in the lives of the Rohingya. But its current maneuvering simply seeks to intervene only to preserve impunity for horrific crimes,” it added.

As part of the council’s resolution, Zeid has been instructed to track the human rights situation in Burma for the next three years and report back to the council on his findings.