UN investigators demand 'full, unfettered' access to Myanmar

A young Rohingya refugee shelters from the rain with an umbrella while sitting at Kutupalong refugee camp in the Bangladeshi locality of Ukhia on September 19, 2017 (AFP Photo/DOMINIQUE FAGET) (AFP)

Geneva (AFP) - UN human rights investigators on Tuesday said they needed "full and unfettered" access to Myanmar to probe a grave and ongoing crisis, but the government renewed its rejection of the investigation.

"It is important for us to see with our own eyes the sites of these alleged violations", the head of the UN-backed fact-finding mission, Marzuki Darusman, told the Human Rights Council.

"There is a grave humanitarian crisis underway that requires urgent attention", he added, asking for "full and unfettered access to the country."

The council set up the mission in March to investigate possible violations across Myanmar, with a particular focus on alleged crimes committed against Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine state.

Myanmar's civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has repeatedly denounced the UN probe as unhelpful and vowed that her government would not cooperate with it.

- Access 'asap'? -

Suu Kyi earlier Tuesday delivered a nationally televised address on the Rohingya crisis, appealing for outside observers to visit Myanmar and see the situation for themselves, in a speech aimed at appeasing an international community horrified by the army-led violence in Rakhine.

But hours later Myanmar's UN ambassador Htin Lynn re-asserted his government's "position of disassociating itself from the resolution" that set up the fact-finding mission.

"We continue to believe that instituting such a mission is not a helpful course of action in solving the already-intricated Rakhine issue", he told the council.

Darusman later told reporters that -- Lynn's comments notwithstanding -- he understood Suu Kyi's speech as a de facto invitation for the UN mission to come to Myanmar.

"Things have developed further by the speech of the state councillor (Suu Kyi)," Darusman said, noting the Nobel Peace Laureate's assertion that Myanmar was open to global scrutiny.

"With that note... the fact finding mission will expect to be admitted into the country as soon as possible", Darusman said.

Darusman had earlier upped the pressure on Myanmar to grant access, arguing it was "in the government's interest and in the interests of the people of Myanmar to communicate their views and evidence directly to the (UN) mission."

The probe had also "urgently dispatched a team to Bangladesh", where more than 421,000 Rohingya have fled army operations since August 25, Darsuman said.

The UN investigator, an Indonesian national and veteran of past UN investigations including a ground-breaking report on slave labour in North Korea, warned that Myanmar had the "danger signs" of a crisis that could worsen.

He noted reports that some in majority Buddhist Myanmar had spread propaganda that "compared the Rohingya to pests" and that such rhetoric can easily help trigger further ethno-religious unrest.