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Myanmar must grant citizenship to Rohingya: UN official

A Myanmarese border guard stands near a group of Rohingya Muslims in front of their homes in a village during a government-organized visit for journalists in Buthidaung Townships, in the restive Rakhine State, Myanmar, on January 25, 2019. (Photo by AFP)

A top UN investigator says Myanmar must grant citizenship to Rohingya Muslims, who have fled genocide in the Buddhist-majority country and who are currently living squalidly in neighboring Bangladesh.

The Rohingya Muslims, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, are denied citizenship there and are branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship.

Thousands of Rohingya Muslims were killed, injured, arbitrarily arrested, or raped by Myanmarese soldiers and Buddhist mobs mainly between November 2016 and August 2017 in what the UN has said was genocide. Some 800,000 other Rohingya survived only by fleeing to Bangladesh, where they live in cramped camps and face forced return.

Last year, a UN fact-finding mission said the campaign against the Rohingya was orchestrated with “genocidal intent.”

“I have seen much brutality in the different parts of my career but the rape and forced eviction of the Rohingya shook me to my core,” said Radhika Coomaraswamy, a member of that mission, on Wednesday.

She said statelessness was at the root of the “horrific” crisis.

“Before you force people to go back into Myanmar you must make sure the conditions are right and the Rohingyas will have... a clear pathway to citizenship,” the UN official said. “The problem is their villages have been bulldozed — without a tree standing.”

She was referring to a campaign of spoliation of evidence by the Myanmarese state to flatten the villages where the Rohingya were once concentrated.

Coomaraswamy also urged Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to “be the democrat she once told us she was.”

Suu Kyi is a Nobel Peace Prize laureate long hailed by Western governments as a supposed democracy icon. But she has either remained silent on the atrocities against the Rohingya by the military and Buddhist mobs or has tacitly sided with the military.

Coomaraswamy was speaking at a global conference on statelessness in The Hague, where the plight of the Rohingya Muslims is in the spotlight.

“Statelessness is no longer the exception in the world — it has become endemic,” she said.

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