UNITED NATIONS – The U.N. Security Council urged Myanmar's government on Monday to step up efforts to create conditions that will allow Rohingya Muslims who fled a violent crackdown to safely return to the country from neighboring Bangladesh.
The council stressed in a statement following closed briefings that progress is also needed by Myanmar on implementing agreements on relations with the U.N. refugee and development agencies and with Bangladesh on returning Rohingya.
Rohingya face official and social discrimination in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, which denies most of them citizenship and basic rights because they are looked on as immigrants from Bangladesh, even though the families of many settled in Myanmar generations ago. Dire conditions led more than 200,000 to flee the country between 2012 and 2015.
The latest crisis began with attacks by Rohingya insurgents on Myanmar security personnel last August. The military responded with counterinsurgency sweeps and was accused of widespread human rights violations, including rape, murder, torture and the burning of Rohingya homes. Thousands are believed to have died and about 700,000 fled to Bangladesh. The U.N. and U.S. officials have called the government's military campaign ethnic cleansing.
Security Council members again stressed "the importance of undertaking transparent and independent investigations in allegations of human rights abuses and violations."
The new U.N. special envoy for Myanmar, Christine Schraner Burgener, said Myanmar's leaders want to bring Rohingya back to Rakhine state, but there are not only divisions between the government and Rohingya, but divisions between that Muslim minority and the rest of Rakhine's mostly Buddhist population.
The council "stressed the need to step up efforts, including through providing assistance to the social and economic development, in order to create conditions conducive to the safe, voluntary and dignified return of Rohingya refugees and internally displaced persons to their homes in Rakhine state."
Burgener, who started the job two months ago, said she has traveled widely, met government officials including State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi three times and has gotten approval to open a small office in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw. She said she plans to return to Myanmar in September.
"I need dialogue, and for that I need open doors," she said, including to discuss "critical questions" and advise the government on "how they can also change the attitude of the communities on the ground."
Several Security Council members have called for the U.N.'s most powerful body to impose sanctions to pressure the government on the Rohingya issue, but China, a close ally of Myanmar and a veto-wielding council member, is highly unlikely to ever agree.
Burgener told reporters, "I think Myanmar is not a country which is reacting quite on pressure, but it's up to the Security Council."
Sweden's U.N. ambassador, Olof Skoog, the current council president, stressed the importance of council unity, though he said his country thinks progress has been "far too slow."
"I think there is a recognition among Security Council members that there have been positive steps taken lately. It's also fair to say that many of those steps are far from sufficient," Skoog said. "As long as the council is unified in terms of engagement, but also on putting pressure, I think we are making progress slowly."