UN chief Antonio Guterres has said that the Rohingya people are one of the most discriminated against people in the world, emphasising that there must be accountability for the gross violations and abuses committed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. According to the UN estimates, nearly 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh to escape violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state since August 25 last year when the army launched a military crackdown.
“Addressing the systematic discrimination against the Rohingya in Myanmar is essential – to ensure they have legal recognition, freedom of movement and equal access to education, health services, employment and other rights,” Guterres told PTI in an exclusive interview ahead of his three-day visit to India that begins Monday.“There can be no peace and reconciliation without ensuring that all people in Myanmar – regardless of their ethnicity or religion – can have equal enjoyment of their rights,” Guterres said.
Responding to a question on the worsening Rohingya crisis, Guterres said he had visited Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh in July this year and had met with refugees and heard “heartbreaking” stories of massive violence – of killings, of rape, of torture, of house or villages burnt. As High Commissioner for Refugees, Guterres had twice visited Northern Rakhine state.
Almost a million Rohingya refugees live in Cox’s Bazar under tarpaulins, on steep, sandy slopes 25,000 of whom are said to be at the highest risk of landslides. “I have no doubt that the Rohingya people are one of the most, if not the most, discriminated against people in the world, lacking any recognition of their most basic rights, starting with the recognition of their right to citizenship by their own country – Myanmar,” he said.
In April, Guterres had appointed Christine Schraner Burgener as his Special Envoy on Myanmar. She is undertaking a process of broad consultations, including with the Government and the military, and with civil society, women’s groups and Member States in the region and beyond to help address the pressing situation in Rakhine State, advance the peace process and support broader democratization and human rights issues.
Guterres called on “accountability” for the gross violations and abuses committed in the Rakhine State. “Holding perpetrators accountable is critical to end the cycle of violence and prevent the recurrence of violations, to give Rohingya refugees the confidence to return to Myanmar to rebuild their lives, and to give hope for a new future to those who remain in Rakhine,” he said.
The UN has called for different accountability options to be considered, he said adding that very strong recommendations have been made by the UN Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar appointed by the Human Rights Council. Effective international cooperation will be critical to ensuring that accountability mechanisms are credible, transparent, impartial, independent and comply with Myanmar’s obligations under international law, Guterres said. This August marked one year since hundreds of thousands of Rohingya people fled persecution and violence in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and sought refuge in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Bangladesh now hosts nearly one million refugees, most of whom are Rohingya women and children who have taken refuge since the start of the violence. Myanmar does not recognise Rohingya as an ethnic group and insists that they are Bangladeshi migrants living illegally in the country.
Guterres further said that the world faces urgent challenges, from climate change and inequality to armed conflict and intolerance, especially targeting migrants and refugees. “We must raise our ambition across the board. But this is also an era in which we have the technology, the knowledge and the wealth to move our world forward leaving no one behind.”
“At a time of fragmentation and polarisation, the world must be reminded of the value of international cooperation,” he said.
He made a call to harness the power of diversity, with people of different traditions and backgrounds coming together at the United Nations to share burdens, solve problems and seize opportunities, to resolve today’s complex challenges. “We must continue to heed that voice of grace and reason – that voice of morality and solidarity. Our world needs it now more than ever,” he said in the email interview.