Rakhine commission gets to work in spite of nationalists’ objections
The nine-member advisory team on Rakhine State was officially launched at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre yesterday with a pledge to uphold “rigorous impartiality”, and a request from the state counsellor that they help to “heal the wounds” c
AS the state counsellor launched a new advisory commission on Rakhine yesterday, she acknowledged the government has not yet found “the right solution” to address human rights abuses and ongoing displacement in the restive state.
“We must try to remedy the situation,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said at the meeting with former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, who will head the nine-member commission.
She asked the commission to undertake a “fair assessment of the Rakhine situation”. “You [the commission members] can assess for yourselves what the root of the problem is,” she said.
“We will face the problems no matter what they are, and we are prepared to solve them with you,” she added.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s new government has been internationally criticised for not taking a stronger line on Rakhine State since assuming office at the end of March, with the new commission seen as a measure to deflect the reproach.
According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA), some 120,000 people remain in squalid temporary displacement camps four years after deadly sectarian violence erupted in the state. The majority of the displaced are self-identifying Muslim Rohingya who continue to face severe restrictions on their movement, with limited access to healthcare and education.
“Muslims living in villages and IDP camps in Rakhine face particular financial and logistics challenges when it comes to accessing healthcare for serious conditions,” UNOCHA said in a June bulletin.
At yesterday’s press briefing at the National Reconciliation and Peace Centre, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said resolving the conflict in Rakhine State was inherently linked to the peace process. She urged the commission to help “heal the wounds” of the nation.
Commission chair Kofi Annan yesterday pledged to work with “rigorous impartiality” in order to resolve communal tensions.
“I am confident that we can work with the people of Rakhine to work to find a commonality and a peaceful and prosperous solution,” he said.
However, before the commission has even begun unpacking the tinderbox issue, the inclusion of international experts on the commission, including Mr Annan, a Ghanaian; Ghassan Salame, of Lebanon; and Norwegian Laetitia van den Assum, has already triggered backlash.
Rakhine nationalists, including members of the state’s dominant political party, contend the appointment of foreigners to addresses a sensitive internal affair has put Myanmar’s sovereignty at stake.
“The sovereignty of the nation belongs to the people. This nation is theirs,” Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said in response to the objections.
“There are those who think we are dragging an internal problem onto the international stage. It is nothing of that kind … Our problem has been on the international stage for many years.”
The commission members will head to Rakhine State for an initial field visit today, but are expected to be greeted by protesting Rakhine nationalists. Parliament will also debate an urgent proposal submitted by Rakhine politicians to abolish the commission.
The advisory team is set to meet with members of the Rakhine State government, community elders, and residents of both Rakhine and Rohingya IDP camps.
Rakhine commission chair Kofi Annan arrived in Yangon yesterday where he met with State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi (right) and former UN chief Kofi Annan officially launched a Rakhine State advisory commission yesterday.