Claims of ethnic cleansing in Burma by a senior United Nations official appear to be “increasingly an accurate description”, the UK Government has said.
Foreign Office minister Mark Field acknowledged Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, has stated that violence against the Rohingya people in Burma by the military and militia seemed a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.
More than half a million people – most of whom are Muslim ethnic minority Rohingya people – have fled the country to Bangladesh amid atrocities and fatalities in Rakhine state.
Mr Field stopped short of declaring the UK believes ethnic cleansing has occurred, explaining it was reluctant to do so for two reasons.
Mr Field told MPs in the Commons: “The broader reason is we’re trying diplomatically as far as possible to see movement from the Burmese government and in fact there has been some, quite significantly, from Aung San Suu Kyi.
“There’s another slightly more personal reason… my own mother was ethnically cleansed as a German national in the early months of 1945.
“She moved from a part of Germany that my forefathers had lived in since the 1720s. She was able to return to, briefly, as a visitor in her 50s – I have never seen that part of the world.
“It is a phrase, because it is loaded I think with great emotion and a sense of a finality about ethnic cleansing, that I have hitherto been relatively reluctant to use – not in any way in disrespect to the Rohingya but we still maintain a hope that many Rohingya will be allowed to return safely to Burma.
“It may be a forlorn hope.
“However, I do also accept the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights having said it seemed to him like a textbook case of ethnic cleansing.
“And I conclude this appears I’m afraid to be increasingly an accurate description of what has happened.”
Mr Field’s remarks came after MPs heard that evidence of ethnic cleansing in Burma is overwhelming and the country’s military must be held to account.