UN Secretary General António Guterres on Tuesday called for ensuring accountability for the "horrendous persecution" of Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and said there could be no excuse for delaying the search for dignified solutions that would allow Rohingyas to return home in safety and dignity.
He made the call at a meeting of the UN Security Council, a day after the release of an independent United Nations investigation into human rights abuses carried out against Rohingyas.
Guterres said that the disproportionate use of force against civilian populations and the gross human rights violations that followed could never be justified.
"I believe this report's findings and recommendations deserve serious consideration by all relevant United Nations bodies.
"Effective international cooperation will be critical to ensuring that accountability mechanisms are credible, transparent, impartial, independent, and comply with Myanmar's obligations under international law," he said.
"I ask members of the Security Council to join me in urging the Myanmar authorities to cooperate with the United Nations, and to ensure immediate, unimpeded and effective access for its agencies and partners. We must also continue to press for the release of journalists who have been arrested for reporting on this human tragedy."
Briefing the Security Council on the first anniversary of Myanmar's violent crackdown, the UN chief said it was clear that conditions were not yet met for the safe, voluntary, dignified and sustainable return of Rohingya refugees to their places of origin or choice.
Sweden and the Netherlands, two temporary members of the UNSC organ, urged the Security Council to refer the crimes to the International Criminal Court.
But China and the Russian Federation, two permanent members of the Security Council with close ties to Myanmar government, said the international community should stop putting pressure on Myanmar and let its government work out the repatriation of the Rohingya refugees with Bangladesh as soon as possible.
They argued that the crisis required a long-term, patient approach, and must be resolved through bilateral diplomatic efforts.
Guterres, recounting his experience of visiting the Rohingya camps last month, said that he has heard stories of horrendous persecution and suffering.
“One father broke down as he told me how his son was shot dead in front of him. His mother was brutally murdered and his house burned to the ground. He took refuge in a mosque only to be discovered by soldiers who abused him and burned the Quran,” he said.
The secretary general expressed concern regarding the dramatic humanitarian and human rights situations and also mentioned the risks to regional peace and security.
He said that despite the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) by the Myanmar authorities and UN agencies in June, the country's leaders did not invest in reconstruction, reconciliation and respect for human rights necessary for all communities to live improved and resilient lives in Rakhine State.
Guterres' call for action was amplified by famed actress Cate Blanchett, a UN goodwill ambassador for refugees, who said the focus of all the efforts must be to provide much-needed support inside Bangladesh while working to ensure conditions in Myanmar are conducive to [their] return.
Addressing the UN Security Council, US Ambassador Nikki Haley said, “The world can no longer avoid the difficult truth of what happened,” adding that the world was watching to see whether the Security Council would take action and hold those responsible for the violence to account.
Sweden's deputy UN ambassador Carl Skau went further, saying, “the gravity of the atrocities committed by the Myanmar security forces,” reinforced his country's call for the Rohingya situation to be referred to the ICC, the world's permanent war crimes tribunal.
“We believe it is time to move forward and we need to consult among council members on a resolution to this end,” he said and stressed that the international community must shoulder its responsibility.
Tariq Mahmood Ahmad, British Minister of State for the Commonwealth and United Nations, who presided over the Security Council session, said the Council had a duty to ensure that Rakhine State's Rohingya population received justice and the prospect of a peaceful future.
“The Council must be prepared to use the full range of tools at its disposal to exert pressure on relevant parties, including the Burmese military,” he said.
The crisis would not be solved overnight or without clear action from the Council, he emphasised. “We need to be acting,” he said while appealing to Council members to set their differences aside and act in accordance with the principles of the United Nations Charter and for the sake of humanity.
Myanmar's UN Ambassador U Hau Do Suan said the government refused to cooperate with the investigation because of concerns about its “impartiality.” He added that the report's release on the eve of the council meeting “raises serious questions about [its] objectivity, impartiality and sincerity.”
China's deputy UN Ambassador Wu Haitao told the council Myanmar and Bangladesh should solve “the Rakhine issue” bilaterally, and the priority now was to start repatriating the Rohingyas as soon as possible.
“There should not be any precondition,” he said. “Issues such as freedom of movement and citizenship should be solved gradually during the repatriation process.” The international community should focus on alleviating poverty in Rakhine, “continue to be patient” and promote dialogue between Myanmar and Bangladesh, Wu added.
Russia's UN Ambassador Vassily Nebenzia called for “a balanced and non-confrontational approach,” and said the “deep problems” in Rakhine should be solved through “peaceful and diplomatic means”. He also expressed hope that all parties would act with restraint.
But Bangladesh's UN Ambassador Masud Bin Momen said every week there was new evidence of the “persecution and dehumanisation” of the Rohingyas and urged the Security Council to respond to the emerging evidence of “atrocity crimes” against them.
While Bangladesh is preparing for the repatriation of Rohingyas, he stressed that this can't start until, at a minimum, they have guarantees for their safety and security, can return to their homes, enjoy freedom of movement, have the opportunity to work “and a clear pathway to their legitimate demand for citizenship in Myanmar.”
Emphasising the need to combat impunity and address the root cause of the Rohingya crisis, France Representative Anne Gueguen said that if there is no tangible progress on the ground over the coming weeks, careful consideration must be given to new actions that the council can take.
Netherlands representative Lise Gregoire Van Haaren stressed the urgent need for accountability for the Rohingya to return to Myanmar and for the Council's continued engagement. “The international community cannot rely on the generous hospitality of Bangladesh forever,” he added, stressing the need for concerted and united international engagement.
Joanna Wronecka of Poland emphasised that, since the outbreak of violence in August 25, 2017 that forced hundreds of thousands of Rohingyas to flee to Bangladesh, “everyday lost to bureaucratic deliberations means that we are collectively responsible for human lives that are perishing.”
Mansour Ayyad Alotaibi of Kuwait also stressed the fact that the voluntary return of refugees could not begin without confidence-building measures, including an independent investigation into crimes committed against the Rohingya minority and the elimination of all root causes of discrimination against that community.