Geneva — The U.N. human rights chief said Monday that the violence and injustice faced by the ethnic Rohingya minority in Myanmar, where U.N. rights investigators have been barred from entering, “seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Speaking at the start of the latest Human Rights Council session, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein first recognized the Sept. 11 attacks anniversary then chronicled human rights concerns about Myanmar. He also spoke about rights concerns in Burundi, Venezuela, Yemen, Libya and the United States, where he expressed concerns about the Trump administration’s plan to dismantle protection for younger immigrants, many of whom have lived most of the lives in the U.S.
Zeid, who is a Jordanian prince, denounced how “another brutal security operation is underway in Rakhine state — this time, apparently on a far greater scale.” He noted the U.N. refugee agency says 270,000 people from Myanmar have fled to neighboring Bangladesh in the last three weeks, and pointed to satellite imagery and reports of “security forces and local militia burning Rohingya villages” and committing extrajudicial killings.
“The Myanmar government should stop pretending that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” he added. He called it a “complete denial of reality” that hurts the standing of Myanmar, a country that had until recently — by opening up politics to civilian control — enjoyed “immense good will.”
“Because Myanmar has refused access to human rights investigators, the current situation cannot yet be fully assessed, but the situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing,” he said.
Zeid said he was “further appalled” by reports that Myanmar authorities planting land mines along the border.
Aside from Myanmar, although he didn’t specify the countries by name, Zeid said the council should consider “the need to exclude from this body states involved in the most egregious violations of human rights.” Human rights advocacy groups have cited Burundi and Venezuela in particular as countries with lamentable rights records that have seats on the 47-member rights council created by the U.N.
On Venezuela, Zeid called for an international independent investigation of possible rights violations, citing a report from his office last month that documented allegations of excessive use of force by security forces to quash protests against President Nicolas Maduro’s government.
“My investigation suggests the possibility that crimes against humanity may have been committed, which can only be confirmed by a subsequent criminal investigation,” Zeid said, urging the council to set up an international investigation into rights violations in Venezuela.
The International Criminal Court says “crimes against humanity” involve certain types of crimes like torture, enslavement, murder and extermination used against civilians in a “widespread and systematic” way, which his report last month had alleged to have occurred in Venezuela.
The rights chief warned of “a very real danger that tensions will further escalate, with the government crushing democratic institutions and critical voices.”
Overall, Zeid lamented how the world has grown “darker and dangerous” since he took office three years ago.
Syria and Iraq, two countries that have been longtime staples of concern from U.N. human rights chiefs, received only passing mention in his address — a testament to the broad concerns about today’s world.
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