Annan commission calls for independent investigation of Rakhine abuses

Kofi Annan appears at a press conference hosted by the Advisory Commission in Yangon. Photo: Jacob Goldberg

The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State has released a series of interim recommendations in response to “recent developments in northern Rakhine State”, including one that appears to contradict the statements made by a Myanmar representative at the UN earlier this week.

Bold recommendations

Among the commissions boldest recommendations are calls to: close all IDP camps in Rakhine State and repatriate the residents; grant automatic Myanmar citizenship to descendants of Myanmar citizens in the state; allow full media and humanitarian access to all areas affected by recent violence; and conduct an independent and impartial investigation to ensure that perpetrators of serious human rights violations are held accountable.

UN human rights special rapporteur Yanghee Lee ruffled feathers earlier this week when she called for an independent commission of inquiry to investigate allegations of human rights abuses in Rakhine State during a session of the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva.

She questioned the efficacy and impartiality of government-appointed commissions, such as the one led former general Vice President Myint Swe.

She said that commissions lacks “robust methodology or policies in place to address key issues such as witness protection or documentation of evidence.”

Myanmar’s representative on the council Htin Lynn rejected the suggestion of an independent commission on inquiry and called on critics to “show greater understanding” of Myanmar’s actions in Rakhine State.

Some anticipate that the Advisory Commission’s repetition of the suggestion may threaten ints relationship with the Myanmar government and State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. Previously, the government has pointed to the commission’s existence as evidence that it is committed to resolving the Rakhine State conflict.

In its initial response to the interim report, the Office of the State Counsellor said the Myanmar government concurs with the recommendations, “but a few will be contingent upon the situation on the ground.”

The Advisory Commission, led by former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, is not mandated to investigate specific alleged human rights violations, it often points out.

“Rather, it seeks to address institutional and structural issues which undermine the prospects for peace, justice and development in Rakhine, and to propose concrete steps that may contribute to improving the well-being of all communities in the state,” according to the interim report.

Other recommendations

In addition to the suggestion of a commission of inquiry, the advisory commission also calls for the formation of a joint commission to strengthen Myanmar-Bangladesh ties and the hiring of Rakhine State residents by investors.

The non-binding set of recommendations asks the Myanmar government to provide shelter for people whose homes have been destroyed and to assess whether the Kyaukpyu SEZ will harm or benefit the people of Rakhine State. It also suggests that the government guarantee equal access to education and healthcare services for Rohingya people, whom it refers to as “Muslims” at the request of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Furthermore, Myanmar security forces should receive comprehensive training in human rights and respect for cultural and religious diversity, the commission recommends.

The government should map out all restrictions on movement affecting Rakhine State residents and include the economic cost of these restrictions, the commission says.

The commission also says the Myanmar government should carry out a campaign to register all births in the state; propose Mrauk U as a UNESCO World Heritage Site; encourage inter-communal harmony; give a voice to the state’s Muslim population; and regularly brief ASEAN members of the regional implications of Rakhine State issues.

The commission plans to release a final report by the end of August 2017.

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