Conditions still not suitable for safe return of Rohingya: UN chief
United Nations: Conditions are still not suitable for the safe, voluntary and sustainable return of over 700,000 Rohingya refugees to their homes in Myanmar, UN chief Antonio Guterres has said as he called for accountability for the “horrendous persecution” of the minority community in the country.
The Secretary-General was briefing the Security Council on the situation in Myanmar, where 12 months ago a military operation in northern Rakhine state sparked an exodus of desperate Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh that quickly became one of the world’s worst humanitarian and human rights crises.
Guterres’ remarks also follow the release of an independent UN investigation into alleged human rights abuses carried out against the mainly Muslim Rohingya and which called for the country’s military leaders to be investigated and prosecuted for genocide and war crimes.
“Following my direct engagement with the Myanmar authorities and several initiatives on the ground by the UN system, I expressed my concerns regarding the dramatic humanitarian and human rights situations,” he said.
“And I emphasized the risks to regional peace and security of further degeneration. As you know, I have also been working to advance a policy of engagement and unified action to encourage positive actions by the Government, help defuse tensions between communities and build confidence and trust. I do not yet see the needed commitment for that investment to take place,” he said.
“It is clear that conditions are not yet met for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees to their places of origin or choice,” Guterres added.
Cate Blanchett, the Academy Award winning actor and Goodwill Ambassador for the Office of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), and Tegegnework Gettu, Associate Administrator of the UN Development Programme (UNDP) also addressed the briefing, which was chaired by Lord Ahmad, Minister of State for the Commonwealth and the UN for the United Kingdom, which currently holds the presidency of the Security Council.
Over 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar to ramshackle refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh’s Cox’s Bazar area, Bangladesh after being forced from their homes by a military operation which UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein compared, at the time, to ethnic cleansing.
Guterres, recounting his experience of visiting the camps this past July, said that he had heard stories of horrendous persecution and suffering.
The trigger for the military crackdown one year ago was a series of attacks on Myanmar security forces by insurgents that were immediately condemned by the Secretary-General.
Guterres said that the disproportionate use of force against civilian populations and the gross human rights violations that followed, could never be justified.
Since then, despite his direct engagement with the Myanmar authorities, and the launch of several UN system initiatives on the ground, the Secretary General has expressed concern regarding the dramatic humanitarian and human rights situations, as well as the risks to regional peace and security of further degeneration.