KUTUPALONG (Bangladesh) • UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres said he heard "unimaginable" accounts of atrocities during a visit yesterday to Bangladesh's refugee camps and called for Myanmar to be held responsible for "crimes" against the Rohingya.
He described the situation for the persecuted Muslim minority as "a humanitarian and human rights nightmare" before touring shelters crammed with those who fled a huge Myanmar army operation last year that the United Nations has likened to ethnic cleansing.
The UN chief heard harrowing testimony of rape and violence from refugees in the crowded camps, where nearly a million Rohingya have sought refuge from successive waves of violence in Myanmar.
"It is probably one of the most tragic, historic, systematic violations of human rights," he told reporters in Kutupalong camp, the world's largest refugee settlement. "Sometimes people tend to forget who is responsible for what happened. So let's be clear where the responsibility is - it is in Myanmar."
"But it's true the whole international community was not able to stop (it). The responsibilities of the crime committed in Myanmar need to be attributed to those who committed those crimes," he added.
The majority of the Rohingya in Bangladesh, or some 700,000 people, flooded across the border last August to escape the violence.
Myanmar has vehemently denied allegations by the United States, the UN and others of ethnic cleansing.
Mr Guterres, accompanied by World Bank head Jim Yong Kim, said he heard "unimaginable accounts of killing and rape" during his first visit to the Rohingya camps as UN chief.
"Nothing could've prepared me for the scale of crisis and extent of suffering I saw today," Mr Guterres said on Twitter. "I heard heartbreaking accounts from Rohingya refugees that will stay with me forever."
Bangladesh and Myanmar agreed in November to begin repatriating the Rohingya but the process has stalled, with each side accusing the other of frustrating the effort. Fewer than 200 have been resettled, and the vast majority refuse to contemplate returning until their rights, citizenship and safety are assured.
Around 100 Rohingya staged a protest just before Mr Guterres' visit, unhappy about a preliminary UN deal with Myanmar to assess conditions on the ground for their possible return home. Mr Mohibullah, a community leader for the displaced minority and who goes by one name, said he raised concerns with Mr Guterres about the UN agreement not referring to the Rohingya by name. Myanmar refers to the Rohingya as "Bengalis" as it does not recognise the Muslim group as native to the country.
Mr Guterres said the preliminary deal was a "first step on the way of progressive recognition of the rights of these people".