UNITED NATIONS / GENEVA - The United Nations Security Council is holding an urgent meeting this week on continuing violence in western Myanmar that has forced 370,000 Rohingya Muslims to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.
The meeting, scheduled for Wednesday, was requested by Britain and Sweden on Monday after Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, the U.N.'s human rights chief, referred to the treatment of the Rohingya as "a textbook example of ethnic cleansing."
Zeid told the U.N. Human Rights Council in Geneva his office has received numerous reports and satellite imagery of Myanmar security forces and local militias carrying out extrajudicial killings and burning entire Rohingya villages in Rakhine state. Zeid also cited reports of Myanmar troops planting landmines along the shared border.
Speaking from Bangladesh, Tirana Hassan, Amnesty International's crisis response director, told U.N. reporters, "These people have been walking, some of them for days, escaping what can only be described as widespread and systematic abuses.
"There are patterns emerging," Hassan said. "There is burning on a massive scale. While the government of Myanmar wants to justify this campaign — and it is a campaign that is targeting the Rohingya — as a counter-insurgency operation, it is absolutely not. The evidence points to the fact that this is a form of collective punishment in the aftermath of the 25 of August when Rohingya insurgents did attack a number of police posts, killing about a dozen security officials. What we have seen in response to those attacks, we would characterize it as collective punishment, essentially, and it is targeting the Rohingya population."
She said Amnesty International fully agrees "with the assessment of the High Commissioner for Human Rights in calling this ethnic cleansing, and it is textbook."
Swedish Ambassador Olof Skoog said in a statement, "We called this meeting as we are deeply concerned by the reports emerging from Rakhine state and the horrifying stories being recounted by Rohingya refugees who have reached Bangladesh. It is important that the Security Council plays its role in responding."
Jean Leiby of the U.N. Children's Fund says Rohingya camps are crowded with children, who are in a fragile state. He says about 200,000 children, many at risk of water-borne diseases, are in urgent need of support.
"You see children who have not slept for days," Leiby said. "They are weak, hungry. After the long journey and a challenging journey, many children are sick and need health care right away. Some children are also in extreme and difficult situations and are traumatized, are in need of protection and psychological support."
The U.N. refugee agency says about 370,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since the violence first erupted on August 25, when a group of Rohingya militants attacked dozens of police posts and an army base in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution. About 400 people have been killed in subsequent clashes and a military counteroffensive that has triggered the current exodus.
The refugee agency dispatched a flight to Bangladesh carrying emergency aid — 91 tons of relief, including shelter materials, blankets, sleeping mats and other essential items — for Rohingya refugees. The cargo has been loaded onto trucks that will bring the supplies to the refugee camps at Cox's Bazar district.
A second flight, donated by the United Arab Emirates, has also landed in Bangladesh, carrying about 2,000 family tents. The supplies in both flights will help 25,000 refugees, and further flights are planned so that a total of 120,000 people can be assisted.
Bangladesh's Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina demanded Myanmar provide help for the displaced Rohingya during a visit Tuesday to a border town in Cox's Bazar, home to one of many fast-filling refugee camps.
Myanmar's de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has borne the brunt of the growing and intense international criticism for her response to the violence. The Nobel Peace laureate maintains there has been "a huge iceberg of misinformation" about the Rohingya crisis, and described many reports as "fake information" designed to promote the interests of "terrorists," a word she used to describe the insurgents.
A number of her fellow Nobel Peace laureates, including the exiled Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Pakistani activist Malala Yousafzai, have issued statements urging her to personally intervene and end the violence.
China, one of Myanmar's main trading partners, offered a staunch defense of its southeast Asian neighbor Tuesday. Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told reporters in Beijing the government supports Myanmar's efforts to uphold peace and "stability" in Rakhine state.
The Rohingya are one of Myanmar's many ethnic minorities in the Buddhist-majority nation. They are considered to be economic migrants from Bangladesh and have been denied citizenship, even though most can show their families have been in the country for generations.