Kofi An­nan to head Rakhine com­mis­sion

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - AUNG KYAW MIN

The for­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral has been named chief of a group of diplo­mats and ex­perts tasked with find­ing a long-term so­lu­tion to com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in Rakhine State.

FOR­MER United Na­tions sec­re­tary gen­eral Kofi An­nan will head an ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion aimed at find­ing a long-term so­lu­tion to com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in Rakhine State.

The State Coun­sel­lor’s Of­fice said in a state­ment re­leased yes­ter­day that it would sign a mem­o­ran­dum of un­der­stand­ing (MoU) with the Kofi An­nan Foun­da­tion soon, but it did not spec­ify the date.

The ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion is com­posed of three in­ter­na­tional ex­perts – in­clud­ing Kofi An­nan – and six Myan­mar na­tion­als, in­clud­ing Myan­mar Na­tional Hu­man Rights Com­mis­sion chair U Win Mra, and rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Bud­dhist and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties.

The com­mis­sion is tasked with find­ing pre­ven­tive mea­sures for con­flicts; en­sur­ing hu­man­i­tar­ian as­sis­tance, rights and rec­on­cil­i­a­tion; es­tab­lish­ing ba­sic in­fra­struc­ture; and pro­mot­ing de­vel­op­ment plans in the state.

The com­mis­sion will sub­mit its find­ings to the gov­ern­ment through the state coun­sel­lor and will re­lease that re­port to the pub­lic within one year.

Amnesty In­ter­na­tional wel­comed the com­mis­sion in a state­ment re­leased yes­ter­day but stressed that the com­mis­sion should pave the way “for the re­al­i­sa­tion of hu­man rights for all peo­ple in the state”.

“The com­mis­sion should in­ves­ti­gate decades of dis­crim­i­na­tion against mi­nori­ties in Rakhine State, en­sure ac­count­abil­ity, rec­om­mend repa­ra­tions and lead ef­forts at rec­on­cil­i­a­tion,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty In­ter­na­tional’s di­rec­tor for South­east Asia and the Pa­cific.

As part of the gov­ern­ment’s first 100-day plan, the Min­istry of Labour, Im­mi­gra­tion and Pop­u­la­tion is­sued white cards to some Mus­lims in Rakhine State, al­low­ing them to go through the town­ship, state and Union-level cit­i­zen­ship ver­i­fi­ca­tion pro­cesses. How­ever, pro­tes­tors and Rakhine politi­cians have ac­cused gov­ern­ment’s ini­tia­tives of be­ing fraud­u­lent and not cred­i­ble.

U Aye Lwin, founder of Re­li­gions for Peace (Myan­mar), an in­ter­faith group, and a mem­ber of the ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion, said the com­mis­sion would con­duct wide­spread con­sul­ta­tion with the var­i­ous com­mu­ni­ties in the state prior to sub­mis­sion of the re­port to the gov­ern­ment.

“We can­not do this process for a short pe­riod,” he said. “We have to take time while con­sult­ing with the peo­ple on the ground to find facts about their phys­i­cal and men­tal sit­u­a­tions. Then we will have to pro­vide ad­vice to the state.”

“It is just an ad­vi­sory body,” he added. “There­fore, we will re­port our find­ings based on the re­al­i­ties on the ground. We will not ex­ag­ger­ate or hide the real sit­u­a­tion.”

The in­ter­na­tional ex­perts in­volved in the com­mis­sion, in­clud­ing Kofi An­nan, are re­li­able in­di­vid­u­als to take on such a big re­spon­si­bil­ity, he said.

Rafendi Djamin also said that the ad­vi­sory com­mis­sion must en­sure in­de­pen­dent, im­par­tial and thor­ough in­ves­ti­ga­tion of hu­man rights vi­o­la­tions in Rakhine State in or­der to be truly ef­fec­tive.

“Only once the facts have been es­tab­lished can Myan­mar move to­ward ac­count­abil­ity and dis­man­tle the sys­temic dis­crim­i­na­tion that the Ro­hingya face,” he said, re­fer­ring to the Mus­lim mi­nor­ity in north­ern Rakhine who self-iden­tify as “Ro­hingya” but who were of­fi­cially known as “Ben­galis” by the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment.

Rakhine Lit­er­a­ture and Cul­ture As­so­ci­a­tion (Yangon) chair Daw Khin Saw Tint, who is Rakhine and has been ap­pointed a mem­ber of the com­mis­sion, said she be­lieves work­ing to­gether with in­de­pen­dent and highly re­spected in­ter­na­tional fig­ures will present a clear im­age of what is hap­pen­ing in Rakhine State to the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity.

“The prob­lem can only be solved with a bi­lat­eral ap­proach,” she said. “I think it is good to in­clude un­bi­ased rep­re­sen­ta­tives from the Mus­lim com­mu­nity be­cause their con­sul­ta­tion with the lo­cal res­i­dents will help us find the best so­lu­tions and un­der­stand what is hap­pen­ing on the ground.”

So­cial har­mony be­tween the Bud­dhist and Mus­lim com­mu­ni­ties broke down when vi­o­lence erupted in 2012, re­sult­ing in the deaths of hun­dreds of res­i­dents, the dis­place­ment of hun­dreds of thou­sands, and the de­struc­tion of homes, build­ings and in­fra­struc­ture.

Sim­i­lar episodes of com­mu­nal vi­o­lence plagued the coun­try the fol­low­ing year, leav­ing dis­placed res­i­dents in camps in lo­ca­tions in Rakhine State and Man­dalay Re­gion.

Since then, anti-Mus­lim sen­ti­ment has been wide­spread across the coun­try, fu­eled by ul­tra-na­tion­al­ist groups and monks. The use of the term “Ro­hingya”, the term the state­less Mus­lim com­mu­nity in Rakhine uses to iden­tify them­selves, has been widely protested by ma­jor­ity Bud­dhists, and by the for­mer gov­ern­ment.

UN spe­cial rap­por­teur on hu­man rights in Myan­mar Yanghee Lee said dur­ing her visit ear­lier this year that the Na­tional League for Democ­racy gov­ern­ment needs to do more to rem­edy the hu­man­i­tar­ian is­sues in the state.

State Coun­sel­lor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has faced wide­spread crit­i­cism from peo­ple who say she is afraid to speak out on be­half of the Mus­lim com­mu­nity. Her NLD party, which won a land­slide vic­tory in last year’s gen­eral elec­tion, did not field a sin­gle Mus­lim can­di­date in fear of los­ing pub­lic pop­u­lar votes.

How­ever, na­tion­al­ist forces had ac­cused her party of be­ing “pro-Mus­lim” for not tak­ing a hard-line stance against the Ro­hingya in Rakhine.

In a press con­fer­ence with US Sec­re­tary of State John Kerry in May, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi urged the in­ter­na­tional com­mu­nity to give her gov­ern­ment “enough space” to find a “prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion” ac­cept­able for all com­mu­ni­ties in the Rakhine state.

‘[The com­mis­sion] is just an ad­vi­sory body ... We will not ex­ag­ger­ate or hide the real sit­u­a­tion.’

U Aye Lwin Re­li­gions for Peace founder

Photo: EPA

For­mer UN sec­re­tary gen­eral Kofi An­nan at­tends the Con­sciouness Sum­mit in Paris, France, in July 2015.

LUN MIN MANG

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