United Nations, April 27: The United Nations Security Council is heading to Asia for a firsthand look at the plight of 700,000 Rohingya Muslims who fled a military crackdown in Myanmar and the several hundred thousand who remain in the country's northern Rakhine State.
Britain's UN ambassador, Karen Pierce, said the most important thing is that the body charged with maintaining international peace and security "can see for itself the situation on the ground in a very desperate case of alleged human rights violations and abuses and crimes against humanity."
The government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar doesn't recognize the Rohingya as an ethnic group, insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country. It has denied them citizenship, leaving them stateless.
The recent spasm of violence began when Rohingya insurgents staged a series of attacks Aug. 25 on about 30 security outposts and other targets. Myanmar security forces responded with a scorched-earth offensive against Rohingya villages that the UN and human rights groups have called a campaign of ethnic cleansing.
The Security Council members planned to leave New York late today. The ambassadors have scheduled a Saturday arrival at Cox's Bazaar in southern Bangladesh, where the Rohingya who fled are now living in camps.
They also will visit the Bangladesh capital, Dacca, and Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw, for talks with government officials before travelling to Rakhine on Tuesday.
The United Nations has a major effort underway to help the refugees in Bangladesh, and Pierce said the council will be able to see it in operation and "take a view on the extent to which that impacts on regional security and stability."
She said the council will also be able "to draw attention to what it considers are the most flagrant human rights abuses and violations, and what needs to be done next to help Myanmar develop as a modern political and economic entity, and to help create the conditions where the refugees can go home in safety and security and dignity."
Lord Nazir Ahmed, the United Kingdom's minister of state for the Commonwealth and the United Nations, told reporters earlier this week that Myanmar's agreement to the council visit and a previous visit by the UN special envoy for sexual violence in conflict "demonstrates the glimmer of hope in what has been a very dark chapter in human history in that part of the region."
He stressed the importance of direct engagement, which "sends a very strong signal to those in Myanmar, both the civilian but more importantly military authorities who have been responsible largely for what we've seen, which has been ethnic cleansing and nothing short of that."