Kofi Annan to head Rakhine commission
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
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan attends the Consciouness Summit in Paris, France, in July 2015.
LUN MIN MANG