UN security council losing patience with Myanmar

In the last four weeks, over 500,000 Rohingya muslims were forced to flee to escape violence, which the UN described as an 'ethnic cleansing'. The UN security council held a public meeting on the situation, the first in eight years

29 September 2017, 8:24am
Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims arrive in Bangladesh by boat in complete darkness, on 26 September, 2017 (Photo: BBC News)
Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims arrive in Bangladesh by boat in complete darkness, on 26 September, 2017 (Photo: BBC News)
It wasn’t until Thursday, however, that the UN security council held its first public meeting on the situation, in more than eight years.

UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres told the council that the current outbreak of violence has "spiraled into the world's fastest-developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare."

"We've received bone-chilling accounts from those who fled, mainly women, children and the elderly," he said.

Those who fled Myanmar have brought with them stories of widespread destruction and murder, in their home province, with their forced migration constituting the quickest exodus from a single country, since the Rwandan genocide in 1994.

On 25 August, Rohingya militants killed 12 security officers in coordinated attacks on border posts, according to Myanmar's state media. In response, the military intensified "clearance operations" against "terrorists," driving thousands of people from their homes.

The security council meeting came as 15 Rohingya, including nine children, drowned after their boat sunk while trying to escape Myanmar to Bangladesh across the Bay of Bengal.

US ambassador to the United Nations told the Security Council Thursday Myanmar's actions in Rakhine State appeared to be ethnic cleansing, an allegation UN human rights chief Zeid Raad al-Hussein made weeks ago.

The government of Myanmar has repeatedly denied this, claiming security forces are carrying out counter attacks against "brutal acts of terrorism."

The country’s foreign ministry claimed that are taking "full measures to avoid collateral damage and the harming of innocent civilians”, according to a statement.

Visiting Myanmar National Security Advisor U Thaung Tun blamed terrorism, not religious persecution, for the unfolding crisis. He said there is "no ethnic cleansing or genocide" in Myanmar, adding that those charges should not be lobbed lightly.

Time for words has passed

During Thursday's meeting, US Ambassador to the UN, Nikki Haley said, the time for "well meaning words in the Council have passed."

She said that action must be considered against "Burmese security forces who are implicated in abuses stoking hatred among fellow citizens," and urged countries that sell weapons to Myanmar to suspend their deliveries until the military provides accountability.

Haley called for the Myanmar military to respect human rights and fundamental freedoms.

"Those who have been accused of committing abuses should be removed from command responsibilities immediately and prosecuted for wrongdoing," she said.

Before the meeting, Amnesty International called for an arms embargo on Myanmar. The group says Myanmar has torched entire villages inside Rakhine State and fired on people trying to flee.

Myanmar issued an invitation to the UN Secretary-General to come visit the country in the "near future." The UN said that it's studying the offer.

The Myanmar envoy also said diplomats accompanied by media will visit northern Rakhine state on Monday.