Kofi An­nan's com­mis­sion should be wel­comed for what it is a par­a­digm shift

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - WAKAR UD­DIN news­room@mm­times.com Wakar Ud­din is a Rakhine State na­tive, pro­fes­sor at Penn­syl­va­nia State University and di­rec­tor gen­eral of the Arakan Ro­hingya Union. He is also a founder of the Burmese Ro­hingya As­so­ci­a­tion of North Amer­ica.

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.

Photo: AFP

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.

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