The Myanmar government announced yesterday that it would set up an Independent Commission of Enquiry to investigate human rights abuses committed in Rakhine State since last August. The commission will consist of three members, including one “international personality.”
A statement released by the Office of the President said “the violation of human rights and related issues following the terrorist attacks by ARSA” and would aim address peace and reconciliation in Rakhine State in consideration of the recommendations of the Advisory Board that was formed last year to implement the recommendations of former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and his commission. The recommendations include restoring citizenship to more than a million stateless Rohingya.
Former US ambassador to the UN Bill Richardson, a well-respected diplomat, was a member of the Advisory Board until he quit in January, accusing State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi of using the board to “whitewash” the military’s abuses and having an “absence of moral leadership.”
On the same day as the announcement of the Independent Commission of Enquiry, the UN announced the Myanmar had agreed to grant access to UNHCR and UNDP, its agencies for refugees and development, to northern Rakhine State. The area has been sealed to UN investigators since the end of 2016 and to Yanghee Lee, the UN-appointed special rapporteur on human rights, since the end of 2017.
With the newly granted access, the UN agencies aim to “establish a framework for cooperation aimed at creating the conditions conducive to the voluntary, safe, dignified and sustainable repatriation of Rohingya refugees to their places of origin or of their choosing.”
“Since the conditions are not conducive for voluntary return yet, the MoU is the first and necessary step to support the Government’s efforts to change that situation and is also intended to support recovery and resilience-based development for the benefit of all communities living in Rakhine State,” said the UN statement on the agreement, which is expected to be signed next week.
Until now, the repatriation process has been governed by an agreement signed by Myanmar and Bangladesh in November. Only a few dozen Rohingya have returned, and even fewer voluntarily, as many members of the stateless minority believe Myanmar has not guaranteed them safety or citizenship.