GENEVA (AP) — Myanmar security forces are "very likely" to have committed crimes against humanity against Rohingya Muslims in recent months, U.N. human rights investigators said Friday, citing an unprecedented upsurge in violence such as gang rape and brutal killings of children as young as 8 months old, at times before the eyes of their own mothers.
U.N. human rights chief Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein commissioned a "flash report " that was released Friday based on scores of interviews last month and indicates that violence against the long-persecuted Rohingya has reached a new level.
Zeid urged the government of Buddhist-majority Myanmar — which has generally ignored international appeals to take action — to "immediately halt these grave human rights violations."
The report, which will raise pressure on the governing party of Nobel Peace Prize-winning Aung San Suu Kyi, is based on harrowing accounts from over 200 people among an estimated 66,000 Rohingya who have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since October, when Myanmar's military began a crackdown following attacks on border posts.
The report said the violence against the Rohingya has been widespread and seemingly systematic, involving killings, enforced disappearances, torture, rape and other sexual violence, arbitrary detention, and deportation, "indicating the very likely commission of crimes against humanity."
"Things like this have been happening throughout," Ilona Alexander, a member of the U.N. investigating mission, said at a news conference. "But from what we have gathered, the (recent) level is unprecedented."
Rights office spokeswoman Ravina Shamdasani said the vast majority of the people interviewed reported witnessing killings. "Of the 101 women interviewed, more than half reported having suffered rape or other forms of sexual violence," she said.
The report's authors said most of the people interviewed accused the security forces, not civilians, of the crimes. Violence in 2012 between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims left scores dead and forced well over 100,000 people, mostly Rohingya, to flee their homes for refugee camps, where most still remain.
The U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights headed by Zeid said reports indicate the intensity and frequency of security forces' operations have been declining so far this year but are still continuing.
"The violence is still ongoing, people are still fleeing," said mission leader Linnea Arvidsson. "The most important thing that needs to happen now is for this to stop."
Myanmar authorities have been presented with the allegations in the report, but have not immediately responded. They have faced many accusations in recent months that soldiers and police have killed and raped Rohingya and burned their homes, and were targeting people based on their religion and ethnicity.
Mosques were occupied by soldiers, used as sites for rape or burned down, the report said. Shamdasani cited "especially revolting" accounts that children were "slaughtered with knives," and said one 8-month-old infant was reportedly killed while his mother was gang-raped by five security officers.
"What kind of hatred could make a man stab a baby crying out for his mother's milk?" Zeid said in a statement.
He deployed the investigating team to Bangladesh, which authorized their visit, after Myanmar's government denied repeated requests for access to the worst-hit areas of Rakhine state. The region is also almost totally closed off to journalists.
A number of Muslim-majority countries have expressed concern about the treatment of the Rohingya. On Friday, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak sent off a ship carrying 2,200 tons of aid for them.
"The Food Flotilla for Myanmar" will deliver supplies to officials in Yangon, Myanmar's main city, and then sail to Bangladesh.
"We want to make a statement, which is enough is enough of all the sufferings of the Rohingya, enough is enough, enough is enough," Najib said at the launch.