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UN Rights Chief Urges Myanmar Leader to Ease Plight of Rohingya

  • Lisa Schlein

A family stands beside remains of a market which was set on fire, in Rohingya village outside Maungdaw, in Rakhine state, Myanmar, Oct. 27, 2016.

The U.N.’s top human rights official, Zeid Ra’ad al Hussein, is urging Myanmar’s leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to use her moral authority to ease the plight of the country’s disenfranchised Rohingya community.

Aung San Suu Kyi has come under mounting criticism from the international community for her failure to speak out on behalf of the Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority in Myanmar’s Rakhine State.

But there are signs this may be changing, says Ravina Shamdasani is spokeswoman for the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights.

She told VOA the High Commissioner spoke personally to Aung San Suu Kyi by phone earlier this month. This call took place after the release of an investigative report that documents alleged atrocities committed by Myanmar’s military against the Rohingya.

“She [Aung San Suu Kyi] was quite shocked to hear the details of these findings and she said that she would have to initiate an investigation. They would need more evidence. The High Commissioner asked her to use all her moral standing to bring this counterinsurgency operation to an end."

FILE- A woman wears a mask of Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, outside the embassy of Myanmar in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 25, 2016.
FILE- A woman wears a mask of Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi during a rally against the persecution of Rohingya Muslims, outside the embassy of Myanmar in Jakarta, Indonesia, Nov. 25, 2016.

About 69,000 Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since October 9, following an oppressive military operation in Rakhine State. U.N. investigators interviewed 220 of these people who described acts of unbearable cruelty, including mass gang-rapes, killings and disappearances.

Shamdasani says the High Commissioner understands the new government has a difficult balancing act in this period of transition. But, she added he believes the violence and suffering of the Rohingya has reached unprecedented levels.

“It is very important that people here signal from the very top that this kind of behavior is not acceptable and that there will be accountability…. It may be too soon to say whether this will be the ultimate breakthrough for the Rohingya in Myanmar, but we believe it is heading in that direction. There is a momentum towards a breakthrough on this issue,” Shamdasani said.

In what could be a harbinger of better things to come for the Rohingya, Myanmar has ended its military operation in Rakhine State this week.

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