According to Reuters, Myanmar denies committing atrocities against the Rohingya.
A resolution in the lower chamber of the U.S. Congress said the sanctions should cover "those responsible for human rights abuses, including members of Burma's military and security services".
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?"
The Human Rights Council voted 33-3 with nine abstentions on a resolution aiming to re-center the world's attention on the crisis that has left an untold number of people killed and injured and driven an estimated 626,000 Rohingya to flee into neighboring Bangladesh since August.
He said Myanmar authorities had refused to give his office access to Rakhine, and that he had instead sent three teams to Bangladesh to monitor the situation and interview refugees.
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Myanmar's ambassador, Htin Lynn, said his government was working with Bangladesh to ensure returns of the displaced in about two months and "there will be no camps".
He added that UN agencies would be involved but stopped short of guaranteeing the immediate, unimpeded access to Myanmar for UN investigators that the UN has demanded.
Up until this point, United Nations officials have described the crisis as "ethnic cleansing" but the term genocide would increase pressure on officials in Myanmar. Ethnic cleansing is not recognised as an independent crime under worldwide law.
The U.N.'s top human rights body has overwhelmingly passed a measure saying that crimes against humanity have "very likely" been committed against the Rohingya minority in Myanmar.
Myanmar's government rejects the term Rohingya, labelling the community "Bengalis". As a result, the United Nations plans to include some 300,000 Bangladeshis as part of its humanitarian assistance program for Rohingya refugees.