The establishment of a high-level commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan is a welcome step towards addressing the human rights situation in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, Amnesty International said today.
“Today’s announcement is a sign that Myanmar’s authorities are taking the situation in Rakhine state seriously. But it will only have been a worthwhile exercise if it paves the way for the realization of human rights for all people in the state,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for South East Asia and the Pacific.
Rakhine state on the western coast of Myanmar is home to many minority groups that have faced decades of human rights violations and abuses, in particular, the persecuted Rohingya minority. The situation there has deteriorated markedly since 2012, when clashes between different groups sparked waves of violence, culminating in scores of deaths, destruction of property and mass displacement.
“The commission should investigate decades of discrimination against minorities in Rakhine state, ensure accountability, recommend reparations, and lead efforts at reconciliation,” said Rafendi Djamin. The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, described by state media as a national body, appears to be the most credible and independent attempt yet to address longstanding human rights violations in Rakhine state, with former UN Secretary Kofi Annan and Myanmar’s State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi steering the effort.
The commission is composed of three international members and six from Myanmar, including representatives from the Buddhist and Muslim communities.
“The inclusion of international members should highlight how the situation goes beyond Myanmar’s borders. But the commission would have benefited from the presence of Myanmar’s other ethnic and religious minorities, such as the Rohingya,” said Djamin.
The Rohingya, who predominantly live in Rakhine State, have faced decades of institutionalized discrimination and denial of their rights. The state’s other minorities also face discrimination, including ethnic Rakhine, Kaman Muslims, and Christian and Hindu communities.
Little is currently known about the commission’s mandate beyond the announcement’s broad focus focus on conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, institution building and development in Rakhine state. It is due to submit a report on its findings to the government after one year.
“For the commission to be truly effective, it must ensure an independent, impartial and thorough investigation of human rights violations in Rakhine State. Only when the facts have been established can Myanmar move towards accountability and dismantling the systemic discrimination that Rohingyas face,” said Djamin.
“However, a commission isn’t needed to take immediate steps to restore rights and dignity to the Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State. A first step would be to lift the restrictions on their freedom of movement, and allow them the chance to seek education, employment, aid and assistance.”