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United Nations 'turned a blind eye' during Rohingya crisis: Advocacy groups

A Rohingya mother and child fleeing from Myanmar in 2017. Source: AAP

The UN is under fire for not doing more during the Rohingya crisis.

The United Nations has comprehensively "failed" during the Rohingya crisis and should immediately act to prevent "future failures in the face of atrocities", advocacy groups claim.

On Thursday, 16 organisations co-signed a joint letter to Secretary-General Antonio Guterres that presented a scathing review of the UN's role during the Rohingya's violent expulsion from Myanmar.

More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017.
More than 700,000 Rohingya fled Myanmar in 2017.
AAP

After a brutal crackdown by the Myanmar military in August 2017, more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to southern Bangladesh in what the International Crisis Group called "one of the fastest refugee exoduses in modern times".

The groups contend the UN and its agencies did not do enough to prevent the situation from escalating or in addressing human rights abuses during and after.

Rohingya repatriation to Myanmar
A group of Rohingya refugee children at a makeshift camp in Cox's Bazar in 2018.
AAP

The letter repeatedly referenced a May 2019 report of an independent investigation by a Guatemalan diplomat, Gert Rosenthal, which said the UN failed to stop, mitigate, or even draw attention to violence.

The report said there was a recurrence of "systematic" failures and "obvious dysfunctional performance" by the UN.

The groups said the UN should "promptly implement reforms" and "take practical steps to hold accountable those UN officials responsible for failures before, during, and since the 2017 ethnic cleansing campaign".

"With elections scheduled in Myanmar in 2020, there is a real and serious risk of more violence against the Rohingya, other Muslim communities, and other vulnerable groups; heightened repression against critics of the military and government; and increased violations of international humanitarian law in the country's internal armed conflicts with ethnic armed groups," the letter said.

"Against this backdrop, it is crucial that under your direction UN bodies operate with a consistent and principled voice that prioritises human rights."

The letter said it hoped "past failures in Myanmar [were] a turning point in the UN's history - the moment when the lessons were finally learned".

Signees of the letter include Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and Article 19.

Louis Charbonneau of Human Rights Watch said: "the UN leadership promised it would never again turn a blind eye to atrocities after ignoring massive civilian deaths in Sri Lanka a decade ago, but it happened again".

"The UN leadership needs to avoid another catastrophe, including by holding officials who failed to act during Myanmar's ethnic cleansing campaign accountable."

A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
A Rohingya refugee camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh.
AAP

Material from the UN states, "the UN will continue to accompany the peace process in Myanmar and look for opportunities to support all the stakeholders in their efforts to build lasting peace".

"While respecting Myanmar's peace process is nationally owned, the UN stands ready to continue assisting domestic efforts to promote enduring peace and national harmony."

The latest repatriation attempt by Bangladesh and Myanmar two weeks ago, the second in less than a year, failed with not a single refugee volunteering to cross the border back home.

More than 130 aid agencies work in the three dozen camps in Cox's Bazar, where more than 700,000 Rohingya fled to, joining some 200,000 others already living here.

The Rohingya have refused to return to Myanmar until gives them guarantees of safety and citizenship status.

Additional reporting: AFP

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