A top UN rights expert said Rohingya were still being persecuted inside Myanmar but warned there is little chance perpetrators will end up in the dock because they are protected by powerful foreign allies.
UN special rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee made the stark comments during a visit to Bangladesh where more than 700,000 of the Muslim minority have fled a massive security crackdown by Myanmar’s military since last August.
The UN’s rights watchdog and US have accused Myanmar of ethnic cleansing after refugees, rights groups and reporters documented harrowing tales of rape, murder and razed villages since the crackdown began in response to a series of ambushes by Rohingya militants.
“Systematic violence targeting against the remaining Rohingya population continues,” the South Korean academic told reporters in Dhaka after visiting camps in Bangladesh’s south where some one million Rohingya refugees now reside.
But she tempered expectations that Myanmar’s generals would see the inside of the International Criminal Court in the Hague any time soon, suggesting Russia and China will shield them.
“As you know referral to the ICC under the current structure of the international fora is that (the UN) Security Council has to refer to the ICC,” she said.
“As you know there are two permanent seats in the ICC that are friends of Myanmar that will not make this happen,” she added.
She did not name the countries, but previously permanent members Russia and China have supported Myanmar in the Security Council and defended it from further censure.
Myanmar has vehemently denied ethnic cleansing accusations, portraying its crackdown as a legitimate response to the threat posed by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, a small militant outfit.
But critics say Myanmar’s military has long deployed scorched-earth tactics against civilians to punish militant groups in rebel areas and point to decades of state sponsored persecution of the Rohingya.
The Muslim minority are widely loathed by many in Buddhist majority Myanmar, where they were stripped of citizenship and branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh despite calling Rakhine their homeland.
Early this week UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said he heard “unimaginable” accounts of atrocities during a visit to Bangladesh’s refugee camps and called for Myanmar to be held responsible for “crimes” against the Rohingya.