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Myanmar Rejects Reports That It Committed Extreme Human Rights Violations

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Photo by Fabrice Coffrini AFP/Getty Images

U.N. Special Rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee speaks at a press conference after reporting to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on Monday.

Two reports to the United Nations have found that Myanmar has carried out extreme human rights violations against the Rohingya people, abuses that are most likely crimes under international law.

The U.N. Human Rights Council heard both reports on Monday: one from the Independent Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, and another from Yanghee Lee, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar.

The government of Myanmar rejected both reports, saying their claims are unsupported, according to the Associated Press. Investigators have been barred by the government from entering Myanmar, and so have relied on interviews with refugees and others in Bangladesh, Malaysia and Thailand.

"The body of information and materials we are collecting is concrete and overwhelming," the experts of the Fact-Finding Mission said in their oral report. "It points at human rights violations of the most serious kind, in all likelihood amounting to crimes under international law."

The mission's report was based on over 600 in-depth interviews with victims and witnesses. Investigators also analyzed satellite imagery, photos and video footage.

"Any denial of the seriousness of the situation in Rakhine, the reported human rights violations, and the suffering of the victims, is untenable," they said. "We have hundreds of credible accounts of the most harrowing nature."

The mission found that so-called "clearance operations" by Myanmar security forces had driven nearly 700,000 Rohingya refugees into Bangladesh since August – and that many Rohingya were killed in such operations: "People died from gunshot wounds, often due to indiscriminate shooting at fleeing villagers. Some were burned alive in their homes – often the elderly, disabled and young children. Others were hacked to death."

In her statement, Lee said that actions in the country "bear the hallmarks of genocide."

She interviewed more than 100 refugees in Bangladesh, and they told her terrible things: "Parents told me harrowing accounts of witnessing their young children being thrown into fires. Survivors described the security forces calling families out of their homes, separating men and boys to be executed in front of their families or taken away. I heard testimony of women and girls being raped and then killed, some burned alive in their homes while unconscious or tied up."

Lee said satellite images show that Myanmar is building military bases on sites where Rohingya villages have been bulldozed.

"This casts further doubt on the sincerity of Myanmar regarding repatriating the Rohingya from Bangladesh," she said. "Importantly, it will be impossible for anyone to claim where they are from or describe where they had previously lived if the region's landscape has been so significantly altered. Additionally, there appears to be a policy of forced starvation in place, designed to make life in northern Rakhine unsustainable for Rohingya who remain."

But Myanmar's government rejected the legitimacy of the reports.

"We are not denying rights violations but we are asking for strong, fact-based, and trustworthy evidence on the allegations they are making," Myanmar government spokesman Zaw Htay told the AP.

Facebook also came under scrutiny for the role its platform played in spreading hate speech, Reuters reports.

"It has ... substantively contributed to the level of acrimony and dissension and conflict, if you will, within the public," Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the fact-finding mission, told reporters. "Hate speech is certainly of course a part of that. As far as the Myanmar situation is concerned, social media is Facebook, and Facebook is social media."

Lee said the platform had "turned into a beast."

"Everything is done through Facebook in Myanmar," she said, according to Reuters. "It was used to convey public messages but we know that the ultra-nationalist Buddhists ... are really inciting a lot of violence and a lot of hatred against the Rohingya or other ethnic minorities."

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