Dozens of ethnic minority groups called on Wednesday for an independent international investigation in western Myanmar, adding to pressure on the government to account for alleged human rights abuses against Rohingya Muslims.
A statement signed by 41 civil society organizations was a show of broad-based concern inside Myanmar about the ongoing crackdown in Rakhine state, where security forces have been accused of razing Muslim villages and torturing and killing civilians.
The groups called for "an international and truly independent investigation … to fully assess the totality of the situation in Rakhine state and provide clear recommendations for the current government to effectively address and prevent further problems."
Human rights groups said the statement was significant because the Myanmar government, led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, has rejected calls for an international inquiry in Rakhine in part because it would face opposition from "local people."
The signatories include Buddhist and ethnic Burman groups, which make up the majority of Myanmar's 53 million people. Hard-line Buddhist monks have been widely accused of leading 2012 pogroms in Rakhine that killed hundreds of Rohingya Muslims.
The estimated 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar are one of the world's most persecuted people, denied citizenship and basic rights by the government, which regards them as interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.
Since Rohingya militants were blamed for attacks against Myanmar security forces in October, at least 86 civilians have been killed and an estimated 66,000 people have fled into Bangladesh to escape a military crackdown.
Preliminary results of a government investigation released this month found no human rights violations and described media reports as "fake news" and "an attempt to cause misunderstandings about Myanmar." It also denied reports of a humanitarian crisis in Rakhine, despite United Nations data showing that the military operation was causing widespread hunger and malnutrition in the coastal state.
Last month, a group of Nobel laureates called on the government to open an international inquiry. The message underscored how Suu Kyi, an icon for her decades-long opposition to Myanmar's former military junta, is growing isolated internationally for her refusal to account for abuses against the Rohingya.
The statement Wednesday by women's groups, academic institutions and advocacy organizations working with ethnic minority communities came on the eve of a meeting of the Organization of Islamic Cooperation, an international body of 57 member states, to discuss the Rohingya issue. The group's envoy to Myanmar has called for a U.N. intervention in Myanmar to stop what he termed "genocide."
The statement "is important for the entire country," said Matthew Smith, chief executive of Fortify Rights, a human rights group working in Southeast Asia. "It's time for the government to get on board and support the establishment of an impartial and independent inquiry."