The United Nations human rights chief, Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein, said in Geneva on Tuesday that Burmese security forces may be guilty of genocide, adding worldwide pressure on Myanmar to be investigated for crimes against humanity.
Genocide is defined by the United Nations as "acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group". Such a designation is rare under worldwide law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and an Islamic State campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.
Those who fled the violence did so voluntarily, some officials have said.
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In a almost unanimous vote, the House passed a resolution today calling on the Myanmar military to cease its ethnic cleansing campaign against the Rohingya and to allow humanitarian aid groups to access northern Rakhine State.
But Zeid told the council: "Considering Rohingyas' self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture - and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group - given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?" He said that further efforts were needed to ensure the early return of the Rohingya refugees in an acceptable environment of safety and dignity to their ancestral homes in Myanmar.
Zeid al-Hussein had previously described the campaign by Myanmar's military as "textbook" ethnic cleansing. Bangladesh now hosts about one million Rohingya.
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Marzuki Darusman, head of an independent worldwide fact-finding mission on Myanmar, said by video from Malaysia: "We will go where the evidence leads us". During the visit, he will inspect the condition of Rohingya refugees living in Cox's Bazar.
Crimes included "rape, gang rape by multiple soldiers, forced public nudity and humiliation, and sexual slavery in military captivity", Patten said.
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