JAKARTA, Indonesia (AP) -- The U.N.'s human rights chief warned Monday that Myanmar's persecution of the Rohingya Muslim minority has the potential to spark regional conflict.
Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein reiterated while in Indonesia that acts of genocide and ethnic cleansing may have occurred in the campaign of violence against Rohingya that sparked an exodus of nearly 700,000 people to neighboring Bangladesh.
"Myanmar faces a very serious crisis with a potentially severe impact on the security of the region," Zeid said in a speech to a rights conference at Indonesia's Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
"It is sometimes said that today's human rights violations will become tomorrow's conflicts," he said. "If the Rohingya crisis were to spark a broader conflict based on religious identities, the ensuing disputes could be a cause for great alarm."
Zeid said the spasms of violence that began in August and sparked the refugee crisis were the culmination of five decades of discrimination and violence against Rohingya in Myanmar's Rakhine state.
The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar denies any atrocities have taken place and insists Rohingya are illegal immigrants.
Zeid also expressed concern about the deteriorating state of democracy in Asia even as countries in the region become wealthier.
On the pretext of protecting public security, numerous governments are cracking down on freedom of expression and attacking the independence of the court system and independence of the press, he said.
Indonesia's poor human rights record, including persecution of religious minorities, LGBT people and indigenous Papuans, is expected to be under scrutiny during Zeid's three-day visit.