Officials at the United Nations have said they cannot rule out the possibility of genocide being conducted against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar by government soldiers.

Speaking to a human rights council session in Geneva, the High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra'ad Al Hussein, detailed the events in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine state over the last few months.

It is estimated that more than 600,000 Rohingya have fled to neighbouring Bangladesh to escape the violence which has been escalating since the summer.

The commissioner warned that the Rohingya should not be relocated back to Myanmar unless guarantees for their safety were given by Aung San Suu Kyi's government.

He listed a series of human rights abuses alleged to have taken place. They include indiscriminate shooting and stabbing of villagers, rape, beatings and the burning of houses with families inside.

Myanmar's ambassador on the council denied the claims and said that his government was working with Bangladesh to help relocate those who had lost their homes.

But Zeid told the council: "Considering Rohingyas' self-identify as a distinct ethnic group with their own language and culture - and [that they] are also deemed by the perpetrators themselves as belonging to a different ethnic, national, racial or religious group - given all of this, can anyone rule out that elements of genocide may be present?"

Up until this point, UN officials have described the crisis as "ethnic cleansing" but the term genocide would increase pressure on officials in Myanmar.

Genocide is defined by the UN as "acts committed with the intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnic, racial or religious group".

Rohingya child marriage refugee camps Bangladesh
Rohingya couple Rahul Amin, 20, and Sabakur Nahar, 15, outside the shelter they have lived in since they got married two months ago Allison Joyce/Getty Images