Persecution of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar is continuing under the auspices of the country’s all-powerful military, which remains the main obstacle to ending the Myanmar refugees crisis, the UN Secretary-General has revealed.
The UN and Myanmar government remain at loggerheads over a deal that would allow the displaced communities to return to their homes, according to Antonio Guterres who has place the responsibility firmly with the military.
“It is clear the military is basically still in charge. It is with the military the international community needs to make the pressure in order to make things to charge.”
“The hate speech is still prevailing in the area and a number of Buddhist migrants are inciting violence against the Rohingya,” something that impeded peace efforts Mr Guterres said. “It is crucial the government in Myanmar and more importantly the military fully understands that these people have the right to go back and live in Myanmar without discrimination.”
Mr Guterres wrapped up a visit to Cox’s Bazaar in Bangladesh where nearly one million Rohingya remain displaced and unable to return to their home in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.
Violence erupted last August when Burmese security forces alleged Rohingya fighters had attacked remote border posts. In response the military launched systematic counter attacks against the minority, mainly Muslim, Rohingya, which human rights groups, including senior UN officials, have said amounted to ethnic cleansing.
Mr Guterres appeared to absolve Burmese leader and former political prisoner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has come under harsh criticism for not doing enough to protect the Rohingya. “I think it is difficult for us to judge situations like these, but it is my belief the military are still in charge.”
Nonetheless, he said the government had to do much more to prevent future abuses. “I don’t want to obviously make a judgement about circumstances I don’t know in detail but there is an expectation that those in the Myanmar government should observe human rights practices that prevented this.”
When pushed if this included Mrs San Suu Kyi, Mr Guterres. said “yes, but I am not a judge. It is clear the military is still in charge.”
He said the UN and Myanmar officials had major differences over a deal to allow the Rohingya to return. “We disagree with the final status of the Myanmar government. They call them Bengali Muslims, we call the Rohingya. We believe citizenship should be granted, but they are reluctant on this.”
"We require a very firm commitment from the government to allow the Rohingya people to feel they can return in safety and security, which is not yet clearly the case," he told the Today programme.
His visit came as monsoon season is set to hit the region, where landslides, cyclones and flash-floods are constant threat. He also said that, despite international solidarity, the UN’s humanitarian response plan had only received 26% of its necessary funding resulting in nutrition, sanitation, shelter and education gaps.
“You can imagine the problems faced when you have about 900,000 people living in camps built in hills that have no rock. It is basically consolidated mud and landslides are a huge risk. I have never seen camps so large and built so quickly,” Mr Guterres said.
“I heard stories that broke my heart, when people talk about their villages being burned, members of their family being killed, rape torture. And then to see that people live in these very difficult circumstances, in a camp that is packed and overcrowded and has the risks of the monsoon season.”