UNITED NATIONS — The U.N. adviser on preventing genocide said Tuesday that all information he has received indicates the Myanmar government intended to get rid of Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state and possibly even destroy them "which, if proven, would constitute the crime of genocide."
Adama Dieng visited Bangladesh from March 7-13 to assess the situation of the Rohingyas and called what he heard and witnessed "a human tragedy with the fingerprints of the Myanmar government and of the international community."
"The scorched-earth campaign carried out by the Myanmar security forces since August 2017 against the Rohingya population was predictable and preventable," Dieng said in a statement. "Despite the numerous warnings I have made of the risk of atrocity crimes, the international community has buried its head in the sand."
"This has cost the Rohingya population of Myanmar their lives, their dignity and their homes," he said.
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 launched a series of attacks on Aug. 25 on about 30 security outposts and other targets.
Myanmar security forces then began a scorched-earth campaign against Rohingya villages that the U.N. and human rights groups have called a campaign of ethnic cleansing. About 700,000 Rohingyas have fled to Bangladesh, but several hundred thousand remain in northern Rakhine State.
Dieng said the Rohingyas "have endured what no human beings should have to endure."
"Let us be clear: international crimes were committed in Myanmar," Dieng said. "Rohingya Muslims have been killed, tortured, raped, burned alive and humiliated solely because of who they are."
He said the solution lies first and foremost with Myanmar's government, which must create conditions for their safe return with "the same rights as any other citizen of Myanmar."
Dieng also stressed that the international community "must not fail the Rohingya population again."
It has a responsibility "to protect the population from the risk of further atrocity crimes," he said.
"Whether or not we consider that the crimes committed amount to crimes against humanity or genocide, this should not delay our resolve to act and to act immediately," Dieng said.
The special adviser on the prevention of genocide also warned that returning the Rohingyas to Myanmar now would put them at risk of new "atrocity crimes"
Dieng said he was encouraged by the commitment of Bangladeshi authorities he met that Rohingya refugees will not be repatriated against their will.
While in Bangladesh, he said, it is imperative that the Rohingyas have more chances for education and work which will help them as refugees and when they eventually return to Myanmar.