UN council has first briefing on rights of Rohingya Muslims

The meeting focused on Myanmar's Muslim minority and their lack of basic human rights.

FILE: The meeting focused on Myanmar's Muslim minority and their lack of basic human rights. Picture: AFP

UNITED NATIONS - The United Nations Security Council on Thursday held its first closed-door briefing on the human rights situation in Myanmar, focusing on the dire situation of the country's Rohingya Muslim minority, the United States and council diplomats said.

UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein briefed the council via video link in a meeting that US Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power welcomed on her Twitter feed as a "historic first" for the 15-nation body, in which Zeid painted a "grim picture of discrimination against Rohingya."

"Zeid gave a powerful briefing on the dire situation and 'institutional discrimination' faced by the Rohingya in Myanmar," a council diplomat present at the meeting told Reuters on condition of anonymity.

"They are often violently abused by smugglers, hundreds recently dying at sea," the diplomat said, summarizing Zeid's remarks about the country formerly called Burma. "This demands a comprehensive response. Must look at root causes."

Power described the conditions for Rohingyas as "troubling and inhumane."

During the meeting Power "underscored that while much progress has been made in Myanmar, some are using newfound freedoms to organise hatred, foment violence, and facilitate the persecution of vulnerable Rohingya," another diplomat said.

She also called for the "immediate lifting of restrictions on the freedom of movement of the more than 140,000 Rohingya trapped in IDP (internally displaced persons) camps, with little access to humanitarian support," the second diplomat added.

Council members welcomed a crisis meeting in Bangkok aimed at addressing Southeast Asia's migrant crisis.

A delegate from Russia complained that the Security Council was not the appropriate forum for human rights, a diplomat said.

China, Myanmar's traditional ally, said it was an internal matter for the country's authorities but expressed concern about the situation.

More than 3,000 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh have landed in Indonesia and Malaysia in recent weeks since Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking gangs earlier this month. About 2,600 are believed to be still adrift on abandoned boats, relief agencies have said.

Many of those who have landed ashore belong to Myanmar's 1.1 million-member Rohingya Muslim minority who live in apartheid-like conditions in Rakhine state.

Recently Zeid said the Rohingyas' situation was "one of the principal motivators of these desperate maritime movements."

The Myanmar government regards most Rohingyas as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. They enjoy few rights and have suffered violence from members of the Buddhist majority over the past few years.