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Myanmar's Rohingya may be victims of 'crimes against humanity': UN

Muslim Rohingya children pictured near charred shelters following a fire that gutted Bawdupa camp near Sittwe, Myanmar, on May 3, 2016

June 20, 2016

Widespread and ongoing violations against Myanmar's Muslim Rohingya minority, including denial of citizenship, forced labour and sexual violence, could amount to crimes against humanity, the United Nations warned Monday.

In a report on the human rights situation for minorities in Myanmar, the UN human rights office said it had found "a pattern of gross violations against the Rohingya... (which) suggest a widespread or systematic attack... in turn giving rise to the possible commission of crimes against humanity if established in a court of law."

The report was published amid hope that Myanmar's new government, steered by Aung San Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party, will address deep hatreds in western Rakhine State.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya are confined to squalid displacement camps after waves of deadly unrest with Buddhists in 2012.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein said he was "encouraged" by statements by the new government in recent weeks.

But, he warned, the fledgling government it had "inherited a situation where laws and policies are in place that are designed to deny fundamental rights to minorities, and where impunity for serious violations against such communities has encouraged further violence against them."

- 'Entrenched discrimination' -

"It will not be easy to reverse such entrenched discrimination," he said in a statement.

Even so, "it must be a top priority to halt ongoing violations and prevent further ones taking place against Myanmar's ethnic and religious minorities."

During its year-long probe, his office found "an alarming increase" in incitement to hatred and religious intolerance by ultra-nationalist Buddhist organisations against the Rohingya.

Buddhist nationalists have staged protests across the country against even using the term Rohingya.

They label the group "Bengalis", casting Myanmar's more than one million Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Myanmar's Rohingya population are denied citizenship even though many can trace their roots in the country back generations.

Monday's report found that in addition to being denied their nationality, state security forces have committed a wide range of other violations against the Rohingya.

These include summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment, and forced labour, the report found.

"Arbitrary arrest and detention of Rohingya remains widespread," it said, pointing out that "arrests are often carried out without grounds, formal processing or charges, until release is secured by payment of a bribe."

And Rohingya in Rakhine State need official authorisation to move between, and often within, townships, severely restricting their freedom of movement, it said.

The restrictions severely impact all aspects of life, including the possibility to make a living, to access education, healthcare and emergency treatment, it said.

The report also outlined abuses against other minorities, especially in Kachin and northern Shan States, where armed conflict has intensified.

The deliberate targeting of civilians, using child soldiers, forced labour and sexual and gender-based violence figure among the long list of abuses, with the report warning they might amount to "war crimes".

The report called on Myanmar to order an independent investigation into all the alleged violations, and a comprehensive inquiry into the situation of minorities in the country.

"We stand ready to support the government of Myanmar in ensuring a successful transition to a society based firmly on the rule of law and the protection of human rights for all," Zeid said.

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