Pope Francis leads prayers at the Basilica of Saint Pau. Photo: Reuters / Alessandro Bianchi

Pope Francis issued a stinging criticism of atrocities against Myanmar’s Rohingya minority on Wednesday, saying they had been tortured and killed simply because they wanted to observe their own culture and Muslim faith.

The pope’s remarks at his weekly audience followed last week’s U.N. report that said security forces in the north of the country had carried out mass killings, gang rapes and had burned villages.

“They have been suffering for years, they have been tortured, killed simply because they wanted to live their culture and their Muslim faith,” the pope said.

“They have been thrown out of Myanmar, moved from one place to the other because no one wants them. But they are good people, peaceful people. They are not Christian. They are good people. They are our brothers and sisters,” he said.

After the report was issued on Friday, the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, said Myanmar’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi had promised to investigate the allegations.

Myanmar, a mostly Buddhist country, had previously denied almost all allegations of human rights abuses against Muslims in the north. The pope is expected to visit neighbouring Bangladesh later this year.

Witnesses cited in the U.N. report testified to “the killing of babies, toddlers, children, women and elderly; opening fire at people fleeing; burning of entire villages; massive detention; massive and systematic rape and sexual violence; deliberate destruction of food and sources of food”.

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