September 14, 2017 7:25 am JST

Security Council condemns Myanmar Rohingya violence

UN secretary-general warns of 'catastrophic' humanitarian situation

ARIANA KING, Nikkei staff writer

A Rohingya refugee pulls a child along as they walk to the shore after crossing into Bangladesh from Myanmar by boat through the Bay of Bengal. Nearly 380,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rahkine state for Bangladesh. © Reuters

UNITED NATIONS -- The Security Council condemned the bloodshed in Myanmar on Wednesday, expressing concern at "reports of excessive violence" by security forces that followed the Aug. 25 attack on police outposts in the country's beleaguered Rakhine state.

In prepared elements for the press, council members called for "immediate steps to end the violence in Rakhine, de-escalate the situation, re-establish law and order, ensure the protection of civilians, restore normal socioeconomic conditions and resolve the refugee problem."

The statement also called on the government to facilitate humanitarian assistance and to fulfill commitments to provide aid to all displaced people without discrimination.

Tekeda Alemu, Ethiopia's ambassador to the U.N. and president of the Security Council for September, suggested after reading the remarks that he wished the council had gone "a little bit further" in its response, but said that as president of the council he could not make any further comments about the strength of the statement.

"The press elements agreed today are an important first step," U.K. Ambassador Matthew Rycroft told reporters after the meeting. Though press elements are considered the weakest council response, Rycroft noted that Wednesday's outcome marked the first time the council reached an agreement on Myanmar in nine years.

Past efforts to respond to the turmoil in Myanmar and bring the issue to a public setting have been blocked by permanent Security Council members China and Russia, who assert that the Rohingya problem is a regional issue and does not belong on the council's agenda.

Wednesday's closed-door meeting was held at the request of the U.K. and Sweden and is the second such meeting in as many weeks. The continued violent clashes and targeted attacks against the country's Rohingya Muslim minority -- which the authorities defend as a counter-operation against terrorism -- have prompted warnings of ethnic cleansing and possibly genocide.

"When one-third of the Rohingya population had to flee the country, can you find a better way to describe it?" Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said at a news conference Wednesday when asked about terming the situation as ethnic cleansing.

Guterres called the humanitarian situation in Rakhine "catastrophic," noting that nearly 380,000 Rohingyas have sought refuge in neighboring Bangladesh, a threefold increase from when he last brought this issue to the media's attention.

In addition to condemning the attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army -- the Rohingya militia responsible for the Aug. 25 incident -- Guterres urged Myanmar's authorities to suspend military action and called for the government to grant nationality, or at least a legal status, to the Muslims in Rakhine.

Guterres, a former U.N. high commissioner for refugees, expressed sympathy for the suffering of the people there. "I visited Rakhine state many times in the past, in my past capacity, and this is a matter that I feel very deeply in my heart," he said.

In a letter addressed to the Security Council on Sept. 2, Guterres urged council members to press for restraint in order to "avoid a humanitarian catastrophe." According to Guterres, that letter was the first such instance of a secretary-general officially writing to the council on an issue since 1989.

The council's general inaction, particularly its reluctance to discuss Myanmar in a public setting, has been the subject of criticism from various human rights groups.

Louis Charbonneau, U.N. director at Human Rights Watch, called the council's failure to publicly discuss the issue "appalling" at a news conference Tuesday, arguing that holding a closed-door meeting is "sending a green light in our view to the authorities, to the security forces in Myanmar to go ahead and do your worst."

"This isn't about having another meeting, whether open or closed," Sherine Tadros, head of Amnesty International's U.N. office in New York told reporters at the briefing. "It's about the Security Council uniting and sending a very public message to the government of Myanmar that they have to put an end to the ongoing violence."

After the council meeting, Rycroft suggested that a further presidential statement and perhaps a public meeting could be in store, "if the situation continues to deteriorate."

If the situation deteriorates further, the council must work harder on prevention efforts and should shine a spotlight on the issue, Rycroft said, "as we sometimes do through an open debate." But, he added, "I doubt there will be unanimity on that."

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