United Nations human rights chief 'cannot rule out genocide' of Rohingya in Myanmar

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The UN Human Rights Council has condemned systematic violations against Rohingya communities in Myanmar and called on the government to ensure justice for victims and access to Rakhine state for investigators and aid workers.

Speaking in Geneva at a special session on Myanmar at the U.N. Human Rights Council, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein says genocide is a legal concept and only a competent court can determine whether the actions of the government of Myanmar against the Rohingya qualify as genocide. He noted that Rohingya see themselves as a distinct ethnic group.

"Can anyone - can anyone - rule out that elements of genocide may be present?"

Since August, an estimated 626,000 refugees - or more than half the Rohingya population of Rakhine state - have fled from Myanmar to Bangladesh.

Myanmar denies committing atrocities against the Rohingya.

He described reports of "acts of appalling barbarity committed against the Rohingya, including deliberately burning people to death inside their homes, murders of children and adults; indiscriminate shooting of fleeing civilians; widespread rapes of women and girls, and the burning and destruction of houses, schools, markets and mosques".

Zeid slammed "widespread, systematic and shockingly brutal" attacks against the Rohingya, as well as policies that had dehumanized and segregated the minority, and left it wallowing in statelessness for decades.

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Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia requested the council session and it won the support of 33 council members and more than 40 observer states.

He told the session that his country was hosting almost one million "Myanmar nationals" following summary executions and rapes "as a weapon of persecution".

He also urged providing the Rohingya Muslims with humanitarian and relief assistance and reconstructing areas destroyed by state authorities in Myanmar.

The Myanmar government considers the Rohingya to be stateless immigrants from Bangladesh, despite their generations-long presence in the country. He also is calling for an global investigation to bring to justice the perpetrators of these crimes.

Marzuki Darusman, head of an independent global fact-finding mission on Myanmar, said by video from Malaysia: "We will go where the evidence leads us".

More than 600,000 refugees have crossed the border from Myanmar since late August, Bangladesh's United Nations ambassador said, joining the 300,000 or so which had fled earlier outbreaks of violence.

Prosecutions for the violence and rapes against Rohingya "appear extremely rare", Zeid said. "We maintain hope that it will be granted early in 2018".

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