Myanmar events ‘bear hallmarks of genocide’: Yanghee Lee

Yanghee Lee, Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, speaks during a press conference after she presented her report to the 37th session of the Human Rights Council, at the European headquarters of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, 12 March 2018. Photo: Salvatore Di Nolfi/EPA-EFE

A top UN rights expert warned Monday that the crackdown on Myanmar's Rohingya minority bears "the hallmarks of genocide" and insisted the government should be held accountable.

Nearly 700,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled northern Rakhine state to Bangladesh since Myanmar launched a brutal crackdown on terrorists six months ago.

Myanmar has vehemently denied US and UN allegations of ethnic cleansing, insisting it was responding to attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army in late August.

But on Monday, UN special rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee suggested that term was not strong enough.

"I am becoming more convinced that crimes committed... bear the hallmarks of genocide, and call in the strongest terms for accountability," she told the UN Human Rights Council.

The South Korean academic, who has been barred from visiting Myanmar, voiced alarm at "credible reports" of widespread indiscriminate killings, including by burning people alive.

She pointed to "conservative estimates" that at least 6,700 Rohingya, including at least 730 children under the age of five, were killed in the first month of violence alone.

Lee echoed a call from UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein last week for the creation of a new international probe tasked with preparing criminal indictments over atrocities committed in Myanmar.

She said the UN-backed investigation should be based out of Bangladesh and should work for three years to "collect, consolidate, map, analyse and maintain evidence of human rights violations and abuses".

The quest for accountability, she said, "must be aimed at the individuals who gave the orders and carried out violations against individuals and entire ethnic and religious groups."

"The government leadership who did nothing to intervene, stop or condemn these acts must also be held accountable," she added.

Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been the target of global vitriol for a perceived failure to stand up for the stateless minority.

"Complicity is a very serious issue," Lee told reporters, adding though that she still had "a little element of hope that she will put her foot down and say once and for all let's stop this."

On Monday, Myanmar Ambassador Htin Lynn stressed to the rights council that Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was committed to human rights.

"It is unreasonable to assert that our leadership, whose mission has human rights at its core, remains indifferent to the allegations of grave human rights violations," he said, insisting that the government was "ready to take action where there is clear evidence."

He meanwhile slammed Lee for presenting "sweeping allegations and unverified information," and insisted "there is a clear need to replace her".


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