The United Nations Human Rights Council voted on Tuesday to a pass a measure saying that crimes against humanity have "very likely" been committed against the Muslim Rohingya minority in Myanmar.
The resolution said the 47-member body is "alarmed" by statements and reports of grave violations against the Rohingya that have been carried out in a "systematic, targeted and deliberate" way by security forces with the help of unspecified "non-state actors."
The Council voted 33-3 with nine abstentions on a resolution aiming to re-center the world's attention on the crisis that has left an untold number of people killed and injured and driven an estimated 626,000 Rohingya to flee into neighboring Bangladesh since August.
China, the Philippines and Burundi voted against the measure. Two delegations were absent.
The measure broke little new ground but did instruct the UN human rights office to assess the level of cooperation of Myanmar's government with UN rights monitors and other experts.
Myanmar’s ambassador Htin Lynn said his government “disassociated” itself from the text and denounced what he called “politicization and partiality”.
The United Nations defines genocide as acts meant to destroy a national, ethnic, racial or religious group in whole or in part. Such a designation is rare under international law, but has been used in contexts including Bosnia, Sudan and an ISIS campaign against the Yazidi communities in Iraq and Syria.
Earlier, UN human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said actions by Myanmar's government to "dehumanize" the Rohingya are likely to fan more violence and draw in communities from across the region.
Zeid also urged the Human Rights Council to consider asking the UN General Assembly to authorize another UN investigation into abuses and violence against the Rohingya.
Zeid, who has described the campaign in the past as a “textbook case of ethnic cleansing”, said that none of the 626,000 Rohingya who have fled violence to Bangladesh since August should be repatriated to Myanmar unless there was robust monitoring on the ground.
He described reports of “acts of appalling barbarity committed against the Rohingya, including deliberately burning people to death inside their homes, murders of children and adults; indiscriminate shooting of fleeing civilians; widespread rapes of women and girls, and the burning and destruction of houses, schools, markets and mosques”.
“Can anyone - can anyone - rule out that elements of genocide may be present?” he told the 47-member state forum.
Lynn told the Human Rights Council: "My government is doing everything possible to deter these extremist acts."
With his government in the spotlight, the ambassador said the priority should be on returning displaced people to Myanmar's Rakhine state.
Shahriar Alam, Bangladesh’s junior foreign affairs minister, told the session in Geneva that his country was hosting nearly one million “Myanmar nationals” following executions and rapes.
These crimes had been “perpetrated by Myanmar security forces and extremist Buddhist vigilantes”, Alam said, calling for an end to what he called “xenophobic rhetoric…including from higher echelons of the government and the military”.