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UN experts report ‘consistent pattern of crimes’ against Rohingya Muslims

Rohingya Muslim refugees wait to receive food distributed by a Turkish aid agency at the Thaingkhali refugee camp in Ukhia, in Bangladesh, October 21, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

United Nations human rights investigators say Rohingya Muslim refugees fleeing the military crackdown in Myanmar have testified about a “consistent, methodical pattern” of killings, torture, rape and arson.

After a visit to the country, the team of investigators, led by former Indonesian attorney-general Marzuki Darusman, said that the death toll from the government-backed crackdown underway against Rohingya Muslims since August 25 was unknown, but “may turn out to be extremely high.”

“We have heard many accounts from people from many different villages across northern Rakhine state. They point to a consistent, methodical pattern of actions resulting in gross human rights violations affecting hundreds of thousands of people,” Darusman said in a statement.

The statement comes after a report that authorities in Myanmar have agreed to allow the United Nations to resume the distribution of food in the northern Rakhine State, where such UN activity had been suspended for two months amid the crackdown.

The World Food Programme (WFP) said on Friday that Myanmar officials had allowed the resumption of food distribution, which was stopped in late August when the crackdown began.

“WFP has been given the green light to resume food assistance operations in northern part of Rakhine. We are working with the government to coordinate the details,” WFP spokeswoman Bettina Luescher told journalists in Geneva.

“We just have to see what the situation on the ground is. It’s very hard to say these things if you can’t get in,” Luescher said.

The WFP had previously been distributing food rations to 110,000 people in northern Rakhine — to both Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims.

One day earlier, a senior United Nations human rights official had strongly criticized Myanmar’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, for her apathy to the plight of the Rohingya.

The UN investigator of human rights abuses in Myanmar, Yanghee Lee of South Korea, expressed deep disappointment on Thursday over what she described as the country’s Nobel laureate leader’s indifference toward the plight of the Rohingya.

Rakhine State, where Rohingya Muslims have lived for generations, has been under military siege since late last year. Access is denied to journalists and rights activists, but the Muslims who have managed to flee to Bangladesh have told of horrendous violence being carried out there. Soldiers have been killing and raping the Muslims and have even been shooting at fleeing civilians, including women and children, at random, according to witnesses.

The brutal atrocities have been deemed “ethnic cleansing” by the United Nations and have sent more than 600,000 Rohingya Muslims to neighboring Bangladesh, creating a humanitarian emergency there.

Yanghee Lee, the United Nations (UN)’s investigator on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, speaks to the press in Yangon, July 21, 2017. (Photo by AFP)

The UN human rights expert had said she was “baffled” by Suu Kyi’s indifferent behavior. 

“There is so much hatred and hostility against the Rohingya” in Myanmar that few dare speak out against it, she said.

Since late August, the crackdown on the Rohingya has intensified.

Other top UN officials have called the campaign a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.

Diplomats of the Security Council are discussing a draft resolution aimed at pressuring the Myanmarese military to end the violence.

Suu Kyi skipped the annual United Nations General Assembly last month in what was widely viewed as a way to avoid hard questions confrontations over the Rohingya crisis.

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