Kofi Annan's commission should be welcomed for what it is a paradigm shift
STATE Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s appointment of the Kofi Annan-led commission on Rakhine State clearly evidences the government’s recognition that these issues have risen to an international scale. Such a commission, and the inclusion of foreign experts, could not have been conceived of even a year ago.
Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has long taken heat from the international community for allegedly not standing up for the human rights of all in Myanmar. Whatever the reason for her long silence on Rohingya in the past, her recent pragmatic steps to address the issues will have lasting implications for untangling the complex and delicate situation in Rakhine State.
During the joint press conference with Secretary John Kerry on May 22, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi acknowledged the divisiveness of using the terms “Bengali” and “Rohingya”. Without mentioning Rohingya specifically, she added that the ability to self-identity is of extreme importance to peoples all over the world.
Such carefully crafted statements by the state counsellor were clearly a prelude to the government’s subsequent efforts to address a range of communal issues in Myanmar – curbing of hate speech, delegitimising extremist organisations and assembling an advisory commission headed by the former United Nations secretary general Kofi Annan.
It is essential that the commission stay on track without getting derailed by criticism, particularly from those calling for a disbanding of the commission based on its composition and the nationalities of its members.
Kofi Annan has clearly articulated that the commission’s mandate is not to police Rakhine State, but to alleviate sectarian tensions. The commission will undoubtedly produce evidencedriven recommendations that could be critical to the government’s formulation of a strategic roadmap for a durable solution in Rakhine State.
Distortion of historical facts by any influential individual or group, organised rallies against the commission or anti-commission legislation in the Rakhine State parliament or elsewhere must not undermine the aims of the commission and the joint peace efforts by the government of Myanmar and the international community.
In approaching communal issues in Rakhine State, the commission must strategically review the history of the people of Rakhine State, including by accessing the archives in government institutions and public sectors, and by engaging with both communities. Evaluating monumental historical sites, including mosques and Buddhist temples that have co-existed for centuries, and assessing various cultural attributes of the people of Rakhine State could also prove important.
In order for the commission to probe the cause of violence, the humanitarian situation and the abuses of human rights, one central theme – the Rohingya’s identity and citizenship – will require especially close examination.
The issues on the ground in Rakhine State are directly tied to the Rohingya communities’ loss of basic rights, particularly the right to citizenship. One historic document that can provide legitimate answers to the citizenship question is the National Registration Certificate (NRC), also known as Thone Kauk Sho. NRCs have been issued by the government to all recognised Myanmar nationals, including Rohingya. Additionally, a long list of Rohingya legislators and hundreds of thousands of Rohingya voters since the beginning of the parliamentary system in Myanmar until the 2010 national election serves as a robust testimony to the existence of Rohingya citizenship in Myanmar. Similarly, the Rohingya broadcast program in the ethnic minority section of the government’s Radio Broadcasting Service in the early 1960s provides clear evidence of the government’s recognition of a Rohingya ethnicity.
Kofi Annan has clearly articulated that the commission’s mandate is not to police Rakhine State, but to alleviate sectarian tensions.
In reality, while addressing the citizenship issues may take some time, the humanitarian issues in Rakhine State require urgent attention. Even incremental improvement in the area will help to set the stage for the peaceful co-existence of all communities in Rakhine.
Based on the recent developments in Myanmar, there is a glimmer of hope. The Kofi Annanheaded commission will one day be recorded in the annals of history for its noble undertaking as it sets the stage for peace, stability and, eventually, the long-awaited return to communal harmony in Rakhine State.
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan (centre) is escorted by police and security as he leaves from a meeting at the That Kay Pyin IDP camp in Sitwee, Rakhine State, on September 7.