A closed-door meeting of the 15-member council says Myanmar is using excessive force in Rakhine state and calls for immediate action to end the violence.

Smoke is seen on Myanmar's side of border as an exhausted Rohingya refugee woman is carried to the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh on September 11, 2017. (Reuters)
Smoke is seen on Myanmar's side of border as an exhausted Rohingya refugee woman is carried to the shore after crossing the Bangladesh-Myanmar border by boat through the Bay of Bengal, in Shah Porir Dwip, Bangladesh on September 11, 2017. (Reuters)

The UN Security Council (UNSC) has called for an end to the violence against Rohingya in Myanmar as UN chief Antonio Guterres said the military campaign against the ethnic Muslim community amounted to ethnic cleansing.

On Wednesday, following a closed-door meeting, the 15-member council including China – a supporter of Myanmar's former ruling junta – expressed concern about excessive force during security operations in Rakhine state and called for "immediate steps" to end the violence.

It was the first time the council agreed on a united response to the crisis sparked by a military crackdown that followed attacks by Rohingya rebels late last month that killed 12 security personnel.

Nearly 400,000 Rohingya have fled across the border into neighbouring Bangladesh, and there have been growing appeals for Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out in defence of the Rohingya.


Suu Kyi, pulled out of this month's UN General Assembly meeting which opens on September 19 and runs through September 25, to address domestic security issues.

Suu Kyi has been condemned for a lack of moral leadership and compassion in the face of a crisis that has shocked the international community.

Ahead of the council, Nobel Peace Laureate, Professor Muhammad Yunus, together with 12 other Nobel Laureates and international personalities sent an open letter to the UNSC urging it to intervene to end the Rohingya crisis.

"Ethnic cleansing"

Earlier, at a press conference in New York, Guterres called for a halt to the military campaign in Rakhine and said the mass displacement of Rohingya amounted to ethnic cleansing.

"I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law and recognise the right of return of all those who had to leave the country," the secretary general told a press conference.

Asked if he agreed the Rohingya population was being ethnically cleansed, he replied, "When one-third of the Rohingya population has got to flee the country, can you find a better word to describe it?"

The term "ethnic cleansing" is defined as an effort to rid an area of an unwanted ethnic group — by displacement, deportation or even killing.

Guterres said that the Myanmar government should either grant the Rohingya nationality or legal status that would allow them to live a normal life.

Condemning the violence, the Security Council also called for humanitarian aid workers to be able to reach those in need in Rakhine state.

But China blocked a proposal from Egypt to add language on ensuring the right of return to the Rohingya sheltering in Bangladesh, diplomats said.

Still, British Ambassador Matthew Rycroft stressed that it was the first time in nine years that the Security Council was able to agree on a common stance on Myanmar.

"We were united in our concern about the situation" after hearing from UN officials who briefed the council on "the catastrophe that is befalling Rakhine state and the Rohingya there," said Rycroft.

Rights groups had urged the council to meet in open session and send a clear message to Myanmar that the world is watching.

"Today was a baby step forward, and it's admittedly rare that the Council finds a way to agree on Burma, but it's far less than what's needed in the face of the unfolding tragedy," said Akshaya Kumar, Human Rights Watch's deputy UN director.

On Wednesday, Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay said that in the northern area of Rakhine, 176 out of 471 Rohingya villages now stand empty after "the whole village fled", adding others were partly deserted or intact.

Bangladesh is struggling to provide relief for exhausted and hungry refugees – some 60 percent of whom are children – while nearly 30,000 ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as well as Hindus have also been displaced inside Myanmar.

Turkey, which is undertaking a massive humanitarian effort for the refugees, plans a meeting of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) on Myanmar, on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.  

Source: TRTWorld and agencies