The UN Security Council on Wednesday broke its weeks-long silence on the crisis in Myanmar and called for an end to the violence in Rakhine state that has sparked the mass exodus of Rohingya Muslims who according to UN chief Antonio Guterres are the victims of ethnic cleansing.
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 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 militants late last month.
Some 380,000 Rohingya have fled across the border into neighboring Bangladesh and there have been growing appeals for Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out in defense of the group.
Suu Kyi’s spokesman earlier said the Nobel laureate and long-time human rights champion would deliver an address on Sept. 19 on peace and reconciliation in Myanmar.
With Myanmar drawing condemnation for the violence, the government said Suu Kyi, will skip this month’s UN General Assembly meetings.
At a press conference in New York, Guterres said: “I call on the Myanmar authorities to suspend military action, end the violence, uphold the rule of law and recognize the right of return of all those who had to leave the country.”
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 1.1-million strong Rohingya have suffered years of discrimination in Myanmar, where they are denied citizenship even though many have longstanding roots in the country.
Guterres said 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.