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The United Nations Security Council urged Burma’s government on Wednesday to carry out transparent investigations into accusations of violence against mainly Rohingya Muslims in the country’s Rakhine State and to allow immediate aid access to the region.
Despite initial resistance by China to the Security Council pressing Burma on accountability, the 15-member body reached consensus agreement on the British-drafted statement.
The move follows a visit by Council envoys to Bangladesh and Burma last week to see firsthand the aftermath of a Burmese military crackdown that Britain, the United States and others have denounced as ethnic cleansing of the minority Rohingya. Burma denies ethnic cleansing.
Fleeing refugees have reported killings, rapes and arson on a large scale. Burma has said its operations in Rakhine were a legitimate response to attacks on security forces by Rohingya insurgents.
“The members of the Security Council in light of the importance of undertaking transparent investigations into allegations of human rights abuses and violations, urge the government of Myanmar to fulfill, based on respect for the rule of law, its stated commitment to holding accountable perpetrators of violence, including sexual violence and abuse and violence against children,” the council statement said.
Rohingya insurgent attacks on security posts in Rakhine in August last year sparked a military operation that has sent nearly 700,000 Rohingya fleeing to refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh. Security Council envoys visited those vast camps last week.
The statement said they “were struck by the scale of the humanitarian crisis and remain gravely concerned by the current situation.” They also noted the “widespread destruction of villages” in Rakhine.
They also met with Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina and Burma’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and traveled to Rakhine State, where the violence erupted.
The council urged Burma to conclude an agreement “in the coming days” with the UN refugee agency UNHCR and UN Development Programme on aid access in Rakhine and help with repatriating refugees from Bangladesh.
The Security Council also said it intends to discuss how it can work with Bangladesh, Burma and the United Nations “to resolve the crisis and create the conditions allowing the safe, voluntary, and dignified repatriation of refugees to their homes in Rakhine State.”
The prosecutor of the International Criminal Court (ICC) has asked the court to rule on whether it has jurisdiction over the deportations of Rohingya to Bangladesh, a possible crime against humanity.
Suu Kyi’s government has expressed “serious concern” over the move at the ICC. Bangladesh is a member of the ICC but Burma is not. Human rights groups have called on the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution referring the situation in Burma to the court.