In Rohingya crisis, doing nothing could be a crime

Bangkok: The United Nations human rights chief has raised the possibility of Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi being charged over atrocities against Rohingya Muslims.

Zeid Raad al-Hussein said whether genocide has been committed would need to be decided by an international court but judges could consider the "crime of omission".

"That if it came to your knowledge that this was being committed, and you did nothing to stop it, then you could be culpable as well for that," Prince Zeid told the BBC, referring to the Nobel laureate who was swept into power in 2015.

Suu Kyi has been widely condemned for her government's failure to protect 1.1 million Rohingya while refusing to acknowledge that any atrocities have been carried out by her country's military.

Zeid's comments came as a new 30-page Human Rights Watch report reveals that a massacre in a village called Tula Toli in the country's Rakhine state on August 30 was pre-planned and killings and rapes there were systematically carried out, leaving several hundred dead, far more than previously known .

Human rights lawyers say they intend to initiate international court action over the massacre, the worst known atrocity among many that has forced almost 650,000 Rohingya to flee Rakhine for Bangladesh since August.

On Monday, Fairfax Media published the shocking testimony of a 40-year-old survivor of Tula Toli whose three month old baby was pulled from her arms and slashed to death, before she saw her seven children, her husband and his two brothers executed.

Brad Adams, Asia Director at Human Rights Watch, said interviews with 18 Tula Toli survivors now in Bangladesh shows "soldiers carried out killings and rapes of hundreds of Rohingya with a cruel efficiency that could only come with advance planning."

The report describes in detail how Myanmar soldiers trapped villagers along a riverbank and proceeded to kill and rape men, women and children and torch the village.

Zeid also told the BBC that Myanmar's military leaders, including Army chief, Senior General Aung Min Hlaing, could face genocide charges because the gravity and scale of the events in Rakhine require a "response by the international community."

He said "it wouldn't surprise me in the future if a court were to make such a finding on the basis of what we are seeing."

Zeid's reference to Suu Kyi is a slapdown for many of her supporters who defend her inaction, claiming her power is limited by the military.

Zeid said he spoke with Suu Kyi when his office published a report in February documenting appalling atrocities committed during an episode of violence in Rakhine in October 2016.

"I appealed to her to bring these military operations to an end," he said.

"I appealed to her emotional standing ... to do whatever she could to bring this to a close, and to my great regret it did not seem to happen."

Zeid criticised Suu Kyi for refusing even to acknowledge the term "Rohingya" which Rakhine Muslims use to self-identity.

"To strip their name from them is dehumanising to the point where you believe anything is possible," he said.

Zeid said he believed Myanmar's military was emboldened because the international community took no action after violence erupted in Rakhine in 2016.

"I suppose that they then drew a conclusion that they could continue without fear," he said.

"We we then began to sense was that this was really well thought out and planned.

This story In Rohingya crisis, doing nothing could be a crime first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.