By Agence France-Presse
In an open letter addressed to the UN Security Council, 23 Nobel laureates, politicians, philanthropists and activists said "a human tragedy amounting to ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity is unfolding in Myanmar."
They also criticized the country's leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- herself a Nobel Peace Prize winner -- for what they called a lack of initiative to protect the Rohingyas.
"We are frustrated that she has not taken any initiative to ensure full and equal citizenship rights of the Rohingyas," the group wrote.
In recent weeks, more than 27,000 people belonging to the persecuted Muslim minority -- a group loathed by many of Myanmar's Buddhist majority -- have fled a Burmese military operation in Rakhine state launched in response to the attack of border posts by armed groups.
Rohingya survivors say they suffered rape, murder and arson at the hands of soldiers -- accounts that have raised global alarm and galvanized protests around Southeast Asia.
Bangladesh's government has been under pressure to open its border to the fleeing refugees, but it has reinforced its border posts and deployed coastguard ships to prevent fresh arrivals.
"The Rohingyas are among the world's most persecuted minorities, who for decades have been subjected to a campaign of marginalization and dehumanization," said the authors -- among them peace prize winners Desmond Tutu, Shirin Ebadi and Jose Ramos-Horta.
They asked the 15-member Security Council to add the "crisis" to its agenda "as a matter of urgency, and to call upon the secretary-general to visit Myanmar in the coming weeks" -- either current UN chief Ban Ki-moon, or his successor Antonio Guterres, who will take over the post next month.
"If we fail to take action, people may starve to death if they are not killed with bullets, and we may end up being the passive observers of crimes against humanity which will lead us once again to wring our hands belatedly and say 'never again' all over again," the letter said.
The Rohingya have languished under years of dire poverty and discrimination from a government that denies them citizenship. The UN and other rights groups have repeatedly called on Myanmar to grant them full rights.