Guterres also said cooperation between countries will be "critical to ensuring that accountability mechanisms are credible, transparent, impartial, and independent
Finding accountability essential to regional security and stability, UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres has urged the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) to seriously consider Monday’s report published by the UN-appointed Independent International Fact-finding Mission on Myanmar.
Guterres also said cooperation between countries will be "critical to ensuring that accountability mechanisms are credible, transparent, impartial, and independent—and comply with Myanmar's obligations under international law."
Despite the UN’s efforts over the past year to help create safeguards for communities in Rakhine State, it is evident that the situation there is not suitable for a safe, voluntary, and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees, Guterres said.
Guterres' remarks also follow the publication of an independent UN investigation report regarding the human rights abuses carried out against the predominantly Muslim Rohingyas. The report called for the country's military leaders to be investigated, and prosecuted, for genocide and war crimes.
UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Goodwill Ambassador and Academy Award-winning actor Cate Blanchett, and Associate Administrator of the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) Tegegnework Gettu, addressed the briefing. It was chaired by Lord Ahmad, minister of state for the Commonwealth and the UN for the United Kingdom—which currently holds the presidency of the Security Council.
Over 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar, to neighbouring Bangladesh's Cox's Bazar district, after being forced from their homes by military persecution—which UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al Hussein compared to ethnic cleansing at the time, according to the UN.
Remembering his experience of visiting the camps in July of this year, Guterres said he heard stories of terrible suffering.
"One father broke down as he told me how his son was shot dead in front of him, his mother was brutally murdered, and his house burned to the ground. When he took refuge in a mosque, he was discovered by soldiers, who abused him and burned the Quran," he said.
One distraught woman gestured to a mother cradling her young baby who was conceived as a result of rape and said: "We need citizenship and security in Myanmar, and we also want justice for what our sisters, our daughters, our mothers have suffered."
Blanchett, who visited Bangladesh last year after being invited by the UNHCR, said she had witnessed similar situations, and "nothing could have prepared me for the extent and depth of suffering I saw... I have heard gut-wrenching accounts of brutal torture, of women savagely violated, and people whose loved ones have been killed before their very eyes."
"I am a mother, and I saw my children in the eyes of every refugee child I met. I saw myself in every parent. How can any mother endure seeing her child thrown into a fire?" she asked the Council.
Antonio Guterres said the alleged trigger for the military crackdown – a series of attacks on Myanmar security forces by alleged Rohingya insurgents – was a scapegoat, and that it could never justify the brutality it was answered with.
Since then, despite his direct engagement with Myanmar’s authorities, and the launch of several UN system initiatives on the ground, Guterres has expressed concern about the extreme humanitarian and human rights situation. He mentioned the situation is deteriorating—risking regional peace and the security.
The UN has addressed this by advancing a policy of engagement and unified action to neutralize tension and build trust –and the appointment of Christine Schraner as special envoy on Myanmar – which has led to a process of broad consultations with government, military, civil society, and women's groups.
Despite the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) by Myanmar’s government and UN agencies in June, Guterres said the country's leaders have not invested themselves in reconstruction, reconciliation, and respect for human rights. He deems it insufficient for all communities in Rakhine State to live improved and resilient lives.
UNDP's Gettu said the agency shares the international concern regarding the situation in Rakhine as well as the plight of the Rohingyas. He emphasized the need to address significant development challenges in Rakhine state and lift restrictions on free movement and access to services.
UNDP, UNHCR, and other UN agencies have been implementing the MoU and working in Rakhine to instate a wide-ranging development and humanitarian assistance initiative—in place with the support of major donors.
Gettu also underlined that addressing the needs of the refugees in Cox's Bazar is also of primary importance.
Guterres also asked the Security Council to urge Myanmar's leaders to enable the immediate, unimpeded, and effective access for the organization's agencies and partners—and release journalists who were arrested for reporting on the atrocities.
He added that there is no excuse for delaying the search for effective, dignified solutions that will allow people to return home and benefit from freedom of movement, an end to persecution, and the re-establishment of the rule of law.
His call for action was echoed by Blanchett, who said "the focus of all our efforts must be there to provide much-needed support inside Bangladesh while working to ensure conditions in Myanmar are favourable for the return of the displaced people."