U.N. rights chief says Rohingya crackdown ‘seems’ like ‘ethnic cleansing’

Meanwhile, Myanmar rejects offer of ceasefire, saying it won't "negotiate with terrorists."

Newly arrived Rohingya from Myanmar, scuffle for puffed rice food rations donated by local volunteers in Kutupalong, Bangladesh. With Rohingya refugees still crossing the border in large numbers, those packed into camps and settlements in Bangladesh are desperate for dwindling basic supplies. Fights are erupting over food and water. CREDIT: Bernat Armangue/AP Photo
Newly arrived Rohingya from Myanmar, scuffle for puffed rice food rations donated by local volunteers in Kutupalong, Bangladesh. With Rohingya refugees still crossing the border in large numbers, those packed into camps and settlements in Bangladesh are desperate for dwindling basic supplies. Fights are erupting over food and water. CREDIT: Bernat Armangue/AP Photo

Three weeks after the start of another round of systematic attacks against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar — after hundreds have been killed, after villages have been raised, and after roughly 300,000 have already fled to Bangladesh — U.N. rights chief Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said the crackdown “seems seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”

Noting that U.N. rights investigators have been denied access to the region by Myanmar, Zeid on Monday stated that “another brutal security operation is underway in Rakhine state — this time, apparently on a far greater scale.”

Myanmar on Sunday rejected the offer of a humanitarian ceasefire by Rohingya fighters, saying that the government would not “negotiate with terrorists,” according to Reuters.

This latest round of violence was triggered after a deadly attack on a Rakhine police post by Rohingya insurgents. This is a far bloodier replay of what happened in October 2016, when another attack on border police set off months of fighting.

Echoing what happened last year, homes in Rohingya villages have been burned to the ground during this latest round of violence. In the 2016 crackdowns, Human Rights Watch used satellite imaging to show that entire villages in Rakhine state, where the Rohingya Muslim minority live in the Buddhist-majority country, had been decimated.

Myanmar authorities have denied setting fire to homes, saying Rohingya insurgents were responsible for the damage. Zeid called this a “complete denial of reality.”

“The Myanmar government should stop pretending that the Rohingyas are setting fire to their own homes and laying waste to their own villages,” he said.

The violence has triggered a dangerous and deadly exodus from Myanmar into Bangladesh, where humanitarian organizations are struggling to deal with influx of people coming in, many of them wounded. Amnesty International reports that Myanmar authorities have laid down landmines on the country’s border with Bangladesh, which have detonated, killing and injuring civilians.

Meanwhile, the Associated Press reports that Bangladesh’s Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina has allocated an additional 2,000 acres to accommodate the growing number of Rohingya fleeing the fighting. According to the AP, those who could not fit into makeshift camps are being sheltered in schools or along roadsides without any hygiene facilities.

Reuters reports that authorities in Bangladesh are reviving a plan criticized by humanitarian workers in 2015 to settle the Rohingya on Thengar Char. In addition to the island being two hours away by boat to the nearest camp, “It regularly floods during June-September monsoons and, when seas are calm, pirates roam the nearby waters to kidnap fishermen for ransom.”

But the Rohingya might not have any other options as life under the current situation in Myanmar is untenable.

On a recent government-approved trip to Myanmar, The BBC questioned what appeared to be staged photos of villagers burning their own homes and pressed a military official on allegations of women being raped by soldiers.

The colonel interviewed responded: “Where is the proof? Look at those women [Rohingya refugees] who are making these claims — would anyone want to rape them?”

The Rohingya make up roughly 1 million of Myanmar’s population of 53 million. They are often referred to as foreigners or “Bengalis” and are not granted citizenship rights.

Updated: This story now includes details of where authorities in Bangladesh would like to relocate some of the Rohingya refugees.