MUSLIM nations have demanded that the United Nations take urgent action to stop the “genocide” of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, as almost 400,000 have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh from a crackdown by the military.
The Organisation of Islamic Cooperation (OIC), the world’s largest Muslim body, which is made up of 57 countries and describes itself as the collective voice of the Muslim world, warned that if urgent action was not taken, the conflict would become a “breeding ground for recruitment by extremist elements”.
“The international community must act to prevent the genocide of the Rohingya,” the OIC said in a statement. It has also demanded an investigation into human-rights abuses, as those who have fled Myanmar speak of rape, murder, and arson carried out by members of Myanmar’s military and Buddhist mobs.
The UN Security Council was to hold an urgent meeting on Wednesday to discuss the crisis.
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Prince Zeid Ra’ad Al-Hussein, said this week that the persecution of the Rohingya amounted to ethnic cleansing — a claim that was denounced by Myanmar’s envoy to the United Nations, U Htin Lynn, who in turn blamed insurgents for the violence.
Last month, a series of co-ordinated attacks by a little-known Rohingya insurgent group was launched against Myanmar security forces in Rakhine State, which has been locked in simmering conflict since 2015.
In response, the army carried out brutal reprisal operations against civilians, and entire villages have been torched. The BBC has collected testimony from villagers of newly planted landmines along the routes taken by fleeing Muslim civilians, which are killing and maiming hundreds.
Before the latest conflict, Rakhine State was thought to be home to about one million Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship by the government, and have been described by the UN as the most persecuted minority in the world.
The country’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has been criticised by fellow Nobel Peace-prize laureates, the Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Dr Desmond Tutu, and Malala Yousafzai, for staying silent in the face of mounting evidence of persecution.
Ms Suu Kyi, who lived under house arrest for 15 years for her pro-democracy activism, is widely seen as the head of government.
In an open letter to her, Dr Tutu wrote: “It is incongruous for a symbol of righteousness to lead such a country. If the political price of your ascension to the highest office in Myanmar is your silence, the price is surely too steep.”
Her office has said that she will not be attending next week’s UN General Assembly debate, saying that she had “more pressing matters to deal with”.
The Prime Minister of Bangladesh, Sheikh Hasina, has urged Myanmar to take back its refugees. Ms Hasina toured the makeshift refugee camps this week and said that the people in them “belonged” to Myanmar.
Bangladesh is barely coping with the thousands of refugees living in the squalid camps. There is growing criticism of the way it is handling the crisis, as aid agencies, including the UN refugee agency, are not being allowed free access into camps to assist refugees, who are being made to pay for the materials to build temporary shelters for themselves.