The UN High Commissioner of Human Rights said the “brutal security operation” in Rakhine state was “clearly disproportionate and without regard for basic principles of international law”.
Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein told the United Nations Human Rights Council in Geneva that more than 270,000 people had fled to Bangladesh, with more trapped on the border, amid reports of the burning of villages and extrajudicial killings.
“I call on the government to end its current cruel military operation, with accountability for all violations that have occurred, and to reverse the pattern of severe and widespread discrimination against the Rohingya population,” he added. “The situation seems a textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
The military campaign began on 25 August, when Rohingya insurgents attacked dozens of Burmese police and paramilitary posts in what they said was an effort to protect their ethnic minority from persecution by security forces in the majority Buddhist country.
In response, the military unleashed what it called “clearance operations” to root out Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army militants.
Almost 300,000 refugees have since fled over the border into Bangladesh’s border district of Cox’s Bazar, where they have given horrific accounts of the violence.
Survivors said the military was targeting civilians with shootings and burning of Rohingya villages in an apparent attempt to purge Rakhine state of Muslims.
Satellite images have supported their accounts, while the bodies of killed Rohingya have been pulled from rivers and others have allegedly been burned.
Some Burmese officials have claimed civilians are setting fire to their own homes but Mr al-Hussein called the claims a “complete denial of reality”, which he said was doing “great damage to the international standing” of the government.
He said he was “appalled” by reports of Burmese troops planting landmines along the border and also warned India against the potential mass deportations of Rohingya families, who have received death threats and been declared illegal by local officials in Jammu.
Mr al-Hussein said he warned last year that the pattern of “gross violations” against Rohingya suggested a systematic attack that could amount to crimes against humanity, but that the lack of access for investigators meant the current situation could not be fully assessed.
Human rights organisations have been warning over the plight of the ethnic minority for decades amid worsening persecution.
The Burmese government has long considered Rohingyas to be foreign nationals from Bangladesh, despite their population numbering over one million and making up a large portion of the country’s Muslim population.
A 1982 law excluded Rohingya from gaining Burmese citizenship, making them one of the largest stateless populations in the world and leaving them at the mercy of systematic abuse including restrictions on freedom of movement, work, privacy, marriage and access to basic health services and education.
The Bangladeshi government has offered a plot of land for a new refugee camp as men, women and children continue to pour across the border, with the two existing settlements overcrowded.
The Dalai Lama, the Buddhist spiritual leader of Tibet, said those carrying out the campaign “should remember Buddha,” adding: “I think in such circumstances Buddha would definitely give help to those poor Muslims.”
He said he had delivered the message to Burma’s leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, several years ago at a meeting of Nobel Peace Prize laureates.
While Burmese Buddhists also follow the teachings of the Buddha, they have a different religious tradition to Tibetans and do not recognise the Dalai Lama as their spiritual leader.
Additional reporting by Reuters
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