Myanmar facing ICC referral unless 'proper' Rakhine probe conducted

Some 670,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar since security forces launched a violent crackdown in Rakhine state last August

Members of the UN Security Council travelled to Myanmar's Rakhine state, where the United Nations and rights groups say almost 700,000 Rohingya have fled to Bangladesh since August.

Envoys from the 15 council members on Sunday visited camps around Cox's Bazar where about 700,000 Rohingya have sought refuge since Myanmar's military launched a crackdown on their community in Rakhine state last August.

Her remarks came at a press conference in Nay Pyi Taw on Tuesday, which marked the end of a high-profile UN Security Council visit to Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Myanmar can set up such a probe through an International Criminal Court (ICC) referral or by holding its own comprehensive inquiry, she said.

Last month the chief prosecutor for the ICC asked judges to consider whether the court's jurisdiction extends to Myanmar, which is not a member of the panel.

The UN refugee agency and Bangladesh recently finalized a memorandum of understanding that said the repatriation process must be "safe, voluntary and dignified ... in line with global standards". They demand guarantees of safety, the right to return to their original villages and the granting of citizenship.

"It is very important to improve the security conditions for the return of the refugees [and] also improve cooperation with global organizations, particularly the United Nations", said Security Council President Gustavo Meza-Cuadra.

But the USA government is conducting an intensive examination of allegations of atrocities against the Rohingya that could be used to prosecute Myanmar's military officials for crimes against humanity, US officials have told Reuters.

He stressed the importance of direct engagement, which "sends a very strong signal to those in Myanmar, both the civilian but more importantly military authorities who have been responsible largely for what we've seen, which has been ethnic cleansing and nothing short of that".

"The Myanmar government took many steps to implement the [repatriation] agreement, but I think there is much that needs to be done for a safe, voluntary and dignified return", United Nations delegation leader Gustavo Adolfo Meza-Cuadra Velasquez told journalists on Tuesday.

Myanmar has yet to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the United Nations Development Programme and U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) on working together on the repatriation of refugees.

"We saw that the Government of Myanmar took many steps to implement the agreement but I think much more needs to be done", he said.

An global appeal for $951 million for humanitarian aid for the refugees and their host communities was only 10 percent funded, he added.

Gustavo Meza-Cuadra, the Permanent Representative of Peru, reiterated the need to ensure refugees' security and recalled previous statements made by the Council on the crisis.

This is a clear attempt by the Myanmar government to appease the worldwide community while simultaneously ensuring that the Rohingya never see their homeland of Rakhine again.

"We all know that people from Bangladesh's refugee camps can't return home in the short term, so they need to be in the proper shelters during this season", he said.

Rights groups, journalist associations and several Western governments have called for the reporters' release, saying the case against them is a violation of freedom of the press.

Nyo Aye informed one delegate that some of the refugees the United Nations team saw in displacement camps in Bangladesh before visiting Myanmar were not all from Rakhine state, but were Bangladeshis who themselves live in the camps.

While the UNSC visit represents a slight thawing in relations between the global body and Myanmar, the brief tour will have limited time and access to assess the situation.

Pierce added that during the Council's meeting with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the State Counsellor urged all concerned to produce evidence that would help the country undertake a proper investigation.

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