United Nations Security Council has asked Myanmar to carry out a “proper investigation” into crimes against the Rohingya people by the military, ensure repatriation in line with international standards, sign an agreement quickly with UN agencies and give them unconditional access.
The permanent representatives of the Security Council probing the Rohingya crisis made the call during a meeting with Myanmar's top political leadership and the military chief on Monday.
During separate meetings with State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and Senior Gen Min Aung Hlaing in Naypyidaw, the UNSC team raised the need for an independent inquiry into the military clearance operation that have seen it accused of atrocities, killing, rape, other sexual violence and destruction of scores of villages in Rakhine.
The delegation on Sunday visited Cox's Bazar in Bangladesh where more than 700,000 Rohingyas took shelter in makeshift camps, fleeing military-led violence in Rakhine State.
After seeing for themselves the conditions facing Rohingya refugees in the camps of southern Bangladesh as well as homes they fled in Myanmar, Security Council members called for them to be allowed a safe return.
Speaking at the press conference at the end of a four-day visit to Myanmar and Bangladesh, UNSC members on Tuesday highlighted the need to establish conditions within Myanmar that allow the “safe, voluntary and dignified return” of refugees as well as accountability for the human rights violations that prompted the exodus.
Myanmar must carry out a “proper investigation” into the alleged crimes against its minority Rohingya population, Britain's Permanent Representative to the UN Karen Pierce said.
She called for the “root causes” of the crisis -- which has seen hundreds of thousands of Rohingya flee Myanmar for neighbouring Bangladesh as a result of what the UN has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by government security forces -- to be addressed.
“In order to have accountability there must be a proper investigation,” said Pierce adding, “It doesn't matter whether it is international or domestic, as long as it's credible.” The probe could be carried out either by the International Criminal Court or Myanmar's own government, she said.
She suggested the UN Security Council could consider helping Myanmar collect evidence of crimes committed during a military crackdown on the Rohingya people. “What we've got to do on the council is to think how best to turn that into something operational, so that the evidence gets collected and given either to the Burmese authorities or to some sort of international mechanism.”
During her meeting with the UNSC envoys in Naypyidaw on Monday, Myanmar's de facto leader Suu Kyi pledged investigations if credible evidence was provided.
However, Sen Gen Min Aung Hlaing denied his force committed crimes against the Rohingya people like rape and sexual violence as he addressed UNSC delegates separately in Naypyidaw on the same day.
The army chief posted a summary of his meeting with the UN envoys on his official Facebook page, in which he attributed the refugee crisis to “terror acts of extremist Bengali terrorists”.
Responding to questions from UNSC ambassadors, the senior general said the army is always disciplined and takes action against anyone who breaks the law.
He denied that soldiers under his command had committed sexual violence during the crackdown contradicting hundreds of testimonies recorded by international organisations, UN officials, experts and human rights activists.
“No sexual violence happened in the history of Myanmar Tatmadaw [armed forces],” he added and urged the UNSC envoys to carefully study firm documents and documentary photos supplied to them by the military in order to learn the truth.
During the meeting, the army distributed documents and photo albums related to the Rakhine issue to the members of the UNSC team.
Reuters reported last week that US investigators have been documenting accusations of murder, rape, beatings and other possible crimes through more than 1,000 interviews with Rohingya men and women in Cox's Bazar refugee camps.
On repatriation issue, the UNSC envoys stressed the necessity of UN involvement in the process and negotiations between Myanmar and the UN refugee agency on potential cooperation. They also called for speeding up the process of safe, voluntary and dignified return of the Rohingyas.
“We are not asking the Myanmar government something new. They are a member of the United Nations and they are a member and state party to many UN conventions. The return of refugees should be in conformity with international standards,” said Kuwait's representative, Mansour Al-Otaibi.
He told reporters Tuesday that the Security Council wanted refugees to return to their homes in Rakhine, but this couldn't take place until Myanmar officials removed conditions and restrictions on their return.
“Basically the message we convey is it is very important to improve the security conditions for the return of the refugees, and also collaboration with the international organisations, particularly the UN,” said Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, ambassador of Peru. “And we also mentioned the importance of the investigation regarding what happened here before the refugees went to Bangladesh.”
The UNSC delegation has also asked the Myanmar government to sign the memorandum with UN agencies in regards repatriation.
“We believe that if the memorandum of understanding can be signed quickly and the UN agencies given unconditional access, that would be the best thing to do with the scale of the problem,” said Karen Pierce, Britain's ambassador to the UN.
The report is based on the reports of Reuters, AP, AFP, UN News, Aljazeera and Frontier Myanmar.