UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres decried the humanitarian “nightmare” faced by Myanmar’s Rohingya on Thursday and demanded that the government end military operations and open humanitarian access to its conflict-wracked western region.
“The situation has spiraled into the world’s fastest developing refugee emergency, a humanitarian and human rights nightmare,” Guterres said in a speech to the UN Security Council.
More than 500,000 Rohingya refugees have flooded into neighboring Bangladesh. The exodus came after attacks by Rohingya militants on security posts prompted a Myanmar military crackdown last month.
The UN has received “bone-chilling accounts” of refugees being subject to “excessive violence and serious violations of human rights, including indiscriminate firing of weapons, the use of landmines against civilians and sexual violence,” Guterres told the public session of the council.
“This is unacceptable and must end immediately,” he added.
Myanmar’s military has been accused of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.
Guterres called on Myanmar to halt military operations, allow “unfettered access” for humanitarian aid, and the “safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of the refugees to their areas of origin.”
“The reality on the ground demands action -- swift action -- to protect people, alleviate suffering, prevent further instability, address the roots of the situation and forge, at long last, a durable solution,” he said.
The UN chief noted that the “systemic violence” could cause unrest to spill into the central part of Myanmar’s Rakhine state, threatening 250,000 Muslims with displacement.
Guterres said a donors’ conference would be held on October 9, without specifying the location.
The United States accused Myanmar Thursday of the ethnic cleansing of minority Rohingya Muslims, saying the bloodshed in Rakhine state had shamed Aung Sang Suu Kyi’s government.
Speaking at a United Nations Security Council meeting, US Ambassador Nikki Haley pressed for members of Myanmar’s military to face action from the global body in response to the violence and expressed sharp criticism of the civilian government.
“We cannot be afraid to call the actions of the Burmese authorities what they appear to be: a brutal, sustained campaign to cleanse the country of an ethnic minority,” said Haley.
“And it should shame senior Burmese leaders who have sacrificed so much for an open, democratic Burma,” she added, using an alternative name for Myanmar.
“The time for well-meaning, diplomatic words in this council has passed. We must now consider action against Burmese security forces who are implicated in abuses and stoking hatred among their fellow citizens.”
More than half a million Rohingya Muslims have fled from Rakhine in western Myanmar to neighboring Bangladesh in the last month after a militant attack sparked a vicious military campaign.
While the UN has previously called the violence ethnic cleansing, Haley’s comments mark the strong criticism yet from Washington.
Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate who is the de facto head of government, has been widely berated for failing to speak up for the Rohingya minority.
But her supporters say the 72-year-old lacks the power to rein in the army, with whom she has been in a delicate power-sharing arrangement since elections in 2015.