UNITED NATIONS -- The U.N. Security Council has failed to respond to the crisis in Myanmar's Rakhine state and must hold the country's military accountable, the American ambassador to the U.N. said Tuesday.
"I urge my colleagues to seize this opportunity to end our inaction and live up to our responsibilities as members of this Security Council," Nikki Haley told the 15-member body and representatives from Bangladesh and Myanmar, also known as Burma. She called on countries to join the U.S. in "doing more than just demanding an end to the atrocities in Burma" and take steps toward a solution.
"There are powerful forces at work trying to cover up the unspeakable horror taking place in Burma," Haley said. "But we owe it to both the victims and the rest of the Burmese people to demand transparency, access and accountability."
Two Reuters journalists were recently arrested while investigating reports of mass graves of Rakhine's Rohingya Muslim minority group. Confirming the reports would strengthen widespread claims of ethnic cleansing and potential genocide at the hands of Myanmar's military.
Tuesday's meeting was held at the request of eight Security Council members, including the U.S., as well as France and the U.K., which are responsible for drafting council texts on Myanmar.
Speaking to reporters ahead of the meeting, French U.N. Ambassador Francois Delattre reaffirmed the need to fully mobilize the council and suggested that the meeting itself was intended to "increase the pressure" to ensure implementation of the council's Nov. 6 presidential statement. The statement called for an end to the violence in Rakhine and urged the Myanmar authorities to allow immediate access to U.N. aid agencies.
A few weeks after the council adopted its statement, Myanmar and Bangladesh reached an agreement on the repatriation of refugees from Bangladesh, where the U.N. estimates some 688,000 Rohingya have fled to since violence broke out in August. But the return process, once expected to begin in January, has stalled.
"As of now, the conditions for a safe, voluntary, dignified return of the refugees are simply not yet in place," Delattre told reporters, calling for the inclusion of the U.N.'s refugee agency in the return process.
Myanmar has touted its engagement with the U.N. and the international community but has been selective in allowing in observers and other outsiders. In addition to blocking a U.N. fact-finding mission from investigating the situation in Rakhine, it has barred entry to Yanghee Lee, the U.N.'s special rapporteur for human rights, and postponed a visit by Security Council members to the area this month.
In her remarks to the council, Haley called discussions between Myanmar and Bangladesh on repatriation "a good thing" but noted that that the Rohingya are too scared to return and should not be asked to until conditions are safe. "We can talk forever and not make progress as long as the military and the government continue to make living in Burma a death sentence for the Rohingya people," she said.
"The leader of Burma has been internationally celebrated in the past for her commitment to peace and to her fellow man," Haley said of Myanmar's de facto civilian leader, State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi. "If any of that love of humanity can still be found in the government of Burma, it must act now."