Yanghee Lee says the situation of the Rohingya is far worse than she had expected
Myanmar’s military and its police are committing “crimes against humanity” against the Rohingya minority, a top UN official has said.
Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special rapporteur for human rights in Myanmar, said that the problem of abuse was “systemic” within the Burmese security forces and that Aung San Suu Kyi’s government should bear some of the responsibility.
“I would say crimes against humanity. Definite crimes against humanity … by the Burmese, Myanmar military, the border guards or the police or security forces,” she said, speaking as part of a joint BBC Newsnight-BBC Our World investigation.
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“At the end of the day it is the civilian government that has to answer and respond to these massive cases of horrific torture and very inhumane crimes they have committed against their own people,” Lee said.
Lee has not been given free access to the conflict area. She visited Bangladesh’s Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar last month and spoke to the Rohingyas who had fled the violence in Myanmar.
“The magnitude of violence that these families have witnessed and experienced is far more extensive than I had originally speculated,” she had told reporters after the visit, and urged the Myanmar authorities to take urgent actions to end their sufferings.
Lee will present her full report on the situation in Myanmar to the UN Human Rights Council on March 13.
More than 70,000 Rohingyas have fled into Bangladesh since a militant attack triggered a military crackdown in October. The refugees brought with them tales of horrific torture, murder, rape and arson.
The Myanmar military ceased the four-month-long “clearing operations” on February 15. UN officials in February said they feared more than 1,000 Rohingya Muslims may have been killed in the crackdown.
Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy won the 2015 polls, has been criticised for keeping silent.
NLD spokesman Win Htein claimed the allegations were “exaggerations” and that it was “an internal matter.”
“We don’t believe it is crimes against humanity,” he told the BBC.
Myanmar has set up its own investigation, led by a former general, into allegations of abuses.
The Buddhist-dominated country does not recognise the Rohingyas, who number about a million, as citizens and see them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The BBC says many of the refugee accounts are supported by both satellite and video evidence. In November, John McKissick, head of the UNHCR in Cox’s Bazar, accused Burma of “ethnic cleansing”.