The Muslim minority is the target of a national hate campaign with politicians failing to address human rights abuses.
Widespread and ongoing violations against Myanmar’s Muslim Rohingya minority, including denial of citizenship, forced labour and sexual violence, could amount to “crimes against humanity”, the United Nations has said.
Some 125,000 Rohingya remain displaced and face severe travel restrictions in squalid camps since fighting erupted between Buddhists and Muslims in 2012. Thousands have fled persecution and poverty.
In a report issued on Monday, the UN human rights office said it had found “a pattern of gross violations against the Rohingya … [which] suggest a widespread or systematic attack … in turn giving rise to the possible commission of crimes against humanity if established in a court of law”.
UN human rights chief Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein said he was “encouraged” by statements by Myanmar’s recently elected government in recent weeks, but added that the new leadership had “inherited a situation where laws and policies are in place that are designed to deny fundamental rights to minorities”.
Hussein said impunity for serious violations against the Rohingya “has encouraged further violence against them”.
The report was published amid hopes that Myanmar’s new government, steered by Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi and her pro-democracy party, will address deep hatreds in the western Rakhine state.
In a meeting on Monday with Yanghee Lee, UN’s special human rights investigator, Aung San Suu Kyi herself avoided the use of the word “Rohingya”.
During its year-long probe, the UN found “an alarming increase” in incitement to hatred and religious intolerance by ultra-nationalist Buddhist organisations against the Rohingya.
Buddhist nationalists have staged protests across the country against even using the term Rohingya.
They label the group “Bengalis”, casting Myanmar’s more than one million Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, denying them citizenship even though their families have lived in Myanmar for generations.
Monday’s report also found that state security forces have committed a wide range of other violations against the Rohingya.
These include summary executions, enforced disappearances, arbitrary arrests and detention, torture and ill-treatment and forced labour, the report said.
Members of the Rohingya community in Rakhine also need official authorisation to move between, and often within, townships, severely restricting their freedom of movement, it added.
The report also outlined abuses against other minorities, especially in the restive Kachin and northern Shan states, where children are allegedly forced into fighting.
The report called on Myanmar to carry out an independent probe.