Anger over international experts appointed to Rakhine commission
NATIONALISTS are already clashing with a newly convened advisory commission tasked with forming a longterm plan for Rakhine State. Furious over the inclusion of international experts on the body, the detractors are raising concerns over a perceived growing international influence over local affairs, and have accused the government of breaching sovereignty.
The advisory commission is composed of three international experts – including the commission chair, former UN chief Kofi Annan – and six Myanmar nationals, including Myanmar National Human Rights Commission chair U Win Mra.
The nine-member commission has been tasked with finding preventive measures for conflicts; ensuring humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation; establishing basic infrastructure; and promoting development plans in the state.
On August 24, the State Counsellor’s Office released a statement saying it would soon be signing a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with the Kofi Annan Foundation about the commission, but did not specify a date.
One day after the statement was released, the Arakan National Party (ANP) called for “abolishing the commission led by Kofi Annan”. The ANP accused the government and the newly created commission of being biased against Rakhine ethnics.
“Our party strongly rejects the three international persons, who lack knowledge about the history and status of the Rakhine ethnics, in the commission,” the ANP’s statement said. “The work of the commission will not be trusted by us.”
“The statement [by the government] will cause not only the loss of the rights of all indigenous ethnics, but will also have a negative impact on the state’s sovereignty,” the statement said.
Thirteen Rakhine State MPs signed a letter sent to the state parliamentary Speaker calling for an emergency meeting to discuss the commission.
“We assume that the new government’s action will have negative results for the country and the people as they give priority to tackle this sensitive Bengali issue instead of paying attention to the more pressing issues such as securing a state of peace, development and unity among ethnic groups,” said U Tun Aung Kyaw, general secretary of the ANP.
The Union Solidarity and Development Party echoed the ANP’s statement, saying that inclusion of the international “outsiders” could render an internal state issue an international affair.
The USDP said the government is neglecting national interests and security by concentrating on human rights issues. The former ruling party
‘We don’t like international involvement in addressing our internal issues. We should solve our problems ourselves.’ Saw Than Myint National Brotherhoods Federation
also pledged to act as a watchdog over the commission.
The objection to the commission has also gained traction with the National Brotherhoods Federation, an alliance of 22 ethnic parties.
“We don’t like international involvement in addressing our internal issues. We should solve our problems ourselves. That’s why we say frankly that we don’t like the participation of the three international persons [on the commission],” said Saw Than Myint, a spokesperson for the NBF.
The previous administration was adamant that issues in Rakhine State were a sovereign affair, even as stateless Muslim Rohingya became one of the largest refugee populations and took to human smuggling boats in regional routes via Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia.
President’s Office deputy director general U Zaw Htay told The Myanmar Times that Kofi Annan was appointed head of the commission due to growing international pressure over humanitarian concerns in Rakhine State. The UN and the international community have heavily criticised the NLD-backed administration for not doing more to remedy the ongoing displacement and restrictions on the movements of the Muslim Rohingya in the first few months in office.
“The Rakhine issue is sensitive and the international community is interested in it. That’s why we are taking into account the role of the international experts,” said U Zaw Htay. He added that Mr Annan’s international clout should bolster the reputation and credentials of the commission.
“He is trusted internationally,” U Zaw Htay added.
Regarding the questions of citizenship for the “Bengalis”, U Zaw Htay stuck to the credo of the controversial 1982 Citizenship Law introduced by General Ne Win’s military regime.
“Existing rules and regulations are already in place,” said U Zaw Htay.
The newly formed commission’s first task is to carry out an evaluation of the 59 points assembled by its predecessor, a 27-member investigation body headed by U Thein Sein, which had aimed to expose the “real cause” of sectarian riots that riddled the state in 2012.
In May 2013, the prior investigation commission submitted a 186-page report focusing on issues such as humanitarian assistance for internally displaced people, citizenship, religion, security and administration, rule of law, and peaceful coexistence.
“We did our best. But the government failed to implement [the suggestions submitted by the commission],” said U Thura, more popularly known as Zaganar, one of the commission members.
Despite the criticism of the international experts heading up the new commission, U Thura said he is optimistic about the advisory body.
“Our commission was also strongly criticised even though it was formed with local experts and tried to produce a good report. Whoever takes up this task will be subject to criticism,” he said.
“But the Rakhine issue is not just a local issue. Actually it is an international issue as our country has been lobbied by the international community. When the report was my responsibility, I had to go to foreign countries including Malaysia and the US and had to meet with Islamic organisations. So I think the participation and suggestions of international experts might be helpful in finding [internationally accepted] ways to solve the issue. Also Kofi Annan is very experienced in dealing with conflict and also is trusted and respected internationally.”
The commission led by the former UN secretary general will submit its findings within a year to the government through the state counsellor in a report that is slated to be released publicly.