YANGON — Myanmar has objected to the use of terms such as “atrocities,” “ethnic cleansing” and “genocide” by several UN delegations in describing the current situation in Rakhine State.
The Government Information Committee published a statement on Wednesday denouncing the usage of these terms without what they described as “solid evidence.”
Ambassador U Hau Do Suan, Permanent Representative of the Republic of the Union of Myanmar to the United Nations, voiced his concerns in responding to such allegations during the final session of the general debate at the UN General Assembly in New York on Monday.
“It is deeply regrettable that unsubstantiated allegations have been repeated in those chambers likening the situation in Rakhine state to ‘ethnic cleansing,” he said.
To date, international aid agencies estimate that 480,000 self-identifying Rohingya Muslims have fled to Bangladesh, and 30,000 Buddhists and Hindus are displaced within Rakhine State. The area experienced military “clearance operations,” following coordinated attacks by militants on police outposts on Aug. 25.
Nigeria, France, Turkey, Afghanistan, Pakistan, the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia, Maldives, Chad and Bangladesh accused Myanmar of committing “atrocities” and “ethnic cleansing” during the general debate of the 72nd Session of the United Nations General Assembly held at the UN headquarters in New York.
U Hau Do Suan said that such terms must not be used lightly. He also described the Muslim community as comprising the majority group in the affected area—northern Rakhine State—and criticized reporting which described them as a minority.
According to the 2014 census, Myanmar is nearly 90 percent Buddhist, with Muslims and Christians each making up around 4 percent of the country.
Myanmar’s ambassador to the UN also said that the world appeared “unaware of the existence and plight of small groups,” in the region such as the Daingnet, Mro, Thet, Mramagyi and Hindus.
On September 11, Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina also criticized Myanmar for “atrocities” committed against the Muslim population.
UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, said what was unfolding in Myanmar was “a textbook of example of ethnic cleansing” while addressing the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva on Sept. 12.
Myanmar’s State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has faced criticism from abroad regarding her response to the crisis. On Sept. 19, during an official address on the situation in Rakhine State, she said she would cooperate with international allies to fight “terrorism” in Myanmar, and condemned all human rights violations and unlawful violence in the western region. She said she was “committed to the restoration of peace, stability and rule of law throughout [Rakhine] state.”
In April 2017, during a rare interview with BBC journalist Fergal Keane, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi responded to a question about whether or not ethnic cleansing—the deliberate removal of an ethnic or religious group—was unfolding in her country.
“I don’t think there is ethnic cleansing going on. I think ethnic cleansing is too strong an expression to use for what is happening,” she said.
Still others have described the ongoing violence as genocide, an international crime defined in 1948 by the UN Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide as killing, preventing births among, causing serious harm to, or deliberately trying to destroy, a population.
Chairman of the Rakhine Advisory Commission and former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in December 2016 in Yangon said, “genocide is a very serious charge that requires legal review and judicial determination.”