United Nations genocide adviser: Indications Myanmar cleansing Rohingyas

A young woman looks at her Facebook wall while she travels on a bus in Yangon

A U.N. fact-finding mission has highlighted the role of social media networks, and Facebook in particular, in fueling hate speech against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar, telling the U.N. Human Rights Council this week that "incitement to violence" is "rampant" and "unchecked".

Lee, who was informed late past year that her access to the country was denied, also expressed serious concern that "the repressive practices of previous military governments were returning as the norm once more" in Myanmar, describing the situation faced by civil society across the country as "increasingly perilous". Some 700,000 have been forced out of the country in the past seven months.

The U.N. adviser on preventing genocide says all information he has received indicates the Myanmar government meant to cleanse Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine state and possibly even destroy them "which, if proven, would constitute the crime of genocide".

Marzuki Darusman, chairman of the UN Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar, told reporters that Facebook in particular had played a "determining role" in Myanmar.

"I'm afraid that Facebook has now turned into a beast, and not what it originally intended".

More than 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar's Rakhine state into Bangladesh since insurgent attacks sparked a security crackdown last August.

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But it has drawn criticism for a take-off that has coincided with a rise in ethnically-charged hate speech and violence, particularly in Rakhine state.

The anti-Rohingya propaganda on Facebook stemmed from several sources, most notably ultra-nationalist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu, but also government and military accounts, according to the Washington Post. Known as the "Burmese bin Laden," Wirathu frequently used his Facebook page to preach hatred toward and spread rumors about Muslims.

The South Korean academic, who has been barred from visiting Myanmar, called for a UN-backed investigation based in Bangladesh.

In the past, Al Jazeera had highlighted how Facebook was used to amplify hate speech against Rohingya Muslims, while a year ago, Daily Beast reported that activists documenting the alleged ethnic cleansing in Myanmar were silenced by Facebook, as their postings were removed and their accounts suspended. We also created Panzagar stickers to help promote positive speech online.

"We work with local communities and NGOs to increase awareness of our policies and reporting process, and are always looking for ways to improve people's experience on Facebook", the spokesperson said.

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