The top UN human rights official on Monday denounced Myanmar’s “brutal security operation” against Muslim Rohingyas in Rakhine state, saying it was disproportionate to insurgent attacks carried out last month.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council, also criticised India for seeking to deport Rohingyas who have taken shelter in India.
“I deplore current measures in India to deport Rohingyas at a time of such violence against them in their country,” Zeid said, noting that some 40,000 Rohingyas had settled in India, including 16,000 who have received refugee documentation.
Noting India’s obligations under international law, he said: “India cannot carry out collective expulsions, or return people to a place where they risk torture or other serious violations.”
Communal tensions appeared to be rising across Myanmar on Monday after two weeks of violence in Rakhine state that have triggered an exodus of about 300,000 Rohingya Muslims, prompting the government to tighten security at Buddhist pagodas.
Zeid said more than 270,000 people had fled to Bangladesh, with more trapped on the border, amid reports of the burning of villages and extrajudicial killings.
“We have received multiple reports and satellite imagery of security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages, and consistent accounts of extrajudicial killings, including shooting fleeing civilians,” Zeid told the Geneva forum.
He cited reports that Myanmar authorities had begun to lay landmines along the border with Bangladesh and would require returnees to provide “proof of citizenship”.
Rohingya have been stripped of civil and political rights including citizenship rights for decades, he added.
“I call on the government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred, and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population,” Zeid said.
“The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Last year, Zeid’s office issued a report, based on interviews with Rohingya who fled to Bangladesh after a previous military assault, which he said on Monday had “suggested a widespread or systematic attack against the community, possibly amounting to crimes against humanity”.