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Story highlights

Human rights leader voice their 'frustration' with fellow Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi

Dozens of people have been killed in western Myanmar since October

(CNN) —  

Twenty-three of the world’s most prominent human rights voices, including Malala Yousafzai, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Richard Branson, are calling on the United Nations Security Council to intervene to end “ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” in western Myanmar.

“If we fail to take action, people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets and we may end up being passive observers of crimes against humanity which will lead us once again to wring our hands belatedly,” read the signatories’ stark warning.

Dozens of the stateless Rohingya minority have been killed and tens of thousands displaced since October, when a fresh bout of state-sponsored violence hit restive Rakhine State.

The current militarization of the region – where access is heavily restricted to aid workers and journalists – has precipitated violence with the same “hallmarks” of past genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, Kosovo and Darfur, reads the open letter published by the Yunus Centre.

02:53 - Source: CNN
Rohingya families flee persecution in Myanmar

Bangladeshi social entrepreneur Mohammed Yunus and former East Timor president Jose Ramos-Horta were among thirteen Nobel Prize winners to voice their “frustration” with fellow laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and ask the U.N. Security Council to make the violence a matter of urgent consideration.

Aung San Suu Kyi, a political prisoner turned election-winner, is widely seen to have failed with her muted response to the current crisis, which erupted after an army response to a series of attacks on Myanmar police stations on 9 October. Blamed on Rohingya extremists, the attacks killed 17, including 9 police officers.

RELATED: Myanmar military burned Rohingya villages, Human Rights Watch says

Photos and videos allegedly show executions

The letter, published on Thursday, accuses the Myanmar government of a “grossly disproportionate” military operation that has seen troops “unleash helicopter gunships on thousands of ordinary civilians…rape women and throw babies into a fire”.

It calls on the U.N. to send its current Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, or his successor, to visit Myanmar “as a priority”.

Photos and videos posted online recently from Rakhine State have purported to show arbitrary executions of civilians by soldiers. Human Rights Watch has independently produced satellite imagery that it claims proves the Myanmar army has razed entire Rohingya villages by fire. The Myanmar government has denied burning the villages, blaming it on “attackers”.

Aung San Suu Kyi had enlisted the help of former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan to chair a ‘Rakhine Commission into Interfaith Violence in Myanmar’ before the recent violence began. The results of his investigation are pending.

She also recently met the foreign ministers of neighboring Southeast Asian nations and told them the Myanmar government is committed to resolving the issues in Rakhine State, but said “time and space are critical for the efforts to bear fruit,” according to state newspaper The Global New Light of Myanmar.

01:42 - Source: CNN
Myanmar's democracy icon on her nation's persecuted minority

Earlier this month the UN’s Special Rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar Yanghee Lee said the situation is “getting very close to what we would all agree are crimes against humanity”.

Myanmar’s Muslim minority has faced intermittent pogroms since 1982, when majority-Buddhist Myanmar blocked any recourse to citizenship for its members.

Tens of thousands have been forced over the border into Bangladesh over the past thirty years. Over 100,000 Rohingya have remained ghettoized in displacement camps in western Myanmar since 2012, when the state’s worst instance of violence ushered in Thursday’s letter referred to as “a new apartheid”.