Australian Government loses its voice as UN Human Rights Council hears of ethnic cleansing unfolding in Myanmar

Australian Government loses its voice as UN Human Rights Council hears of ethnic cleansing unfolding in Myanmar

The UN Human Rights Council last night held an important session focusing on the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Myanmar.

The session began with harrowing updates from the Independent International Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar and also from the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in Myanmar.

The UN experts presenting to the Human Rights Council said they had received evidence that:

  • the elderly, people with disabilities, and young children have been burned alive in their homes;
  • the military are perpetrating brutal gang rapes; and
  • there has been targeted killing of children and babies.

During the Council session, the US said it was "appalled by the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya" and the UK said the "human rights violations, including murder, torture and sexual violence, are appalling". In contrast, the Australian Government “recognised" the "complex challenges" faced by Myanmar "as it seeks to consolidate democratic reforms and to achieve peace and reconciliation".

A Director of Legal Advocacy at the Human Rights Law Centre, Daniel Webb, who is currently in Geneva to attend the Australian's first session as a member of the Human Rights Council, said he was disappointed by the Government's weak response to the horrors unfolding in our region.

"Time and time again we see our Government getting all mealy-mouthed about global humanitarian emergencies when the country in question has some connection with its own refugee policies.

"We’re talking about families being burned alive in their homes. While the international community has been desperately sounding the alarm, our Government has been indefinitely detaining people fleeing these atrocities in its camps on Manus and Nauru and has now lost its voice on the world stage," said Mr Webb.

The UN has previously said that the situation in Myanmar amounts to ethnic cleansing and "bears the hallmarks of genocide" and in his address to the Human Rights Council last week, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights said he suspects "acts of genocide" are being committed and called for international criminal proceedings against those responsible.

In the lead up to Australia’s election to the Human Rights Council, the Foreign Minister, Julie Bishop, bizarrely boasted that Australia was the first Western country to advocate for the end of human rights monitoring in Myanmar and the Government has previously sought to soften and downgrade Council resolutions regarding the human rights atrocities occurring in Myanmar.

"Victims of cruelty and injustice all over the world desperately need governments like ours to be part of the UN’s principled spine, not a corrosive influence gnawing away at the very foundations of human rights with hollow words and unprincipled actions," said Mr Webb.

In its offshore refugee camps, the Australian Government holds more than 200 Rohingya people who have fled Myanmar. The Government has pressured the Rohingya men it holds on Manus Island with offers of $25,000 to return back to danger.

Instead of condemning the Myanmar Government and military for the atrocities, the Australian Government expressed only general concern, failing to specifically mention the plight of the Rohingya people and saying that the UN statements showed that the situation in Myanmar “requires continued investigation”.

For interviews or further information please call:
Alycia Gawthorne, Communications Officer, Human Rights Law Centre, 0425 016 380


Broadcast: The UN fact finding mission and the Special Rapporteur gave short presentations on their findings, which can be viewed online at the beginning of this clip

Print: The text for the Independent Fact Finding mission’s update is here and the related press release is here.

The Special Rapporteur’s report is listed as A/HRC/37/70 here.

The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ address to the Council last week is here.

Photo credit: Kutupalong Refugee Camp John Owens (VOA)