NAY PYI TAW: Myanmar’s western Rakhine state represents a human rights crisis, affecting particularly the Muslim community or Rohingyas there.
The Rakhine Advisory Commission, led by its chairman, the former UN Chief Kofi Annan, gave this assessment, without identifying the Rohingyas by name, in its final report released on Thursday (Aug 24).
In its 63-page report, the commission said the Muslim community in Rakhine has become particularly vulnerable to human rights violations due to protracted statelessness and profound discrimination.
The report pointed out that about 10 per cent of the world’s stateless people live in Myanmar. And the Muslims, or Rohingyas, in Rakhine make up the single largest stateless community in the world.
The nine-member team, including three foreigners and six locals, concludes its one-year mandate after submitting its final set of recommendations to the Myanmar government.
Myanmar had tasked the commission to draw up proposals on how the government could develop Rakhine and foster reconciliation among the residents living in the restive state.
Rakhine has been wrecked by regular episodes of violence, most recently, stemming from the attacks against three border posts on Oct 9 last year.
The incident forced more than 87,000 Rohingyas to flee to neighbouring Bangladesh, with allegations of atrocities such as rape, extra-judicial killings and arbitrary arrests against the community, levelled at security forces during “clearance operations”.
Myanmar considers the Rohingyas, some one million of them in the country, illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
The report entitled “Towards a Peaceful, Fair and Prosperous Future for the People of Rakhine” contains 88 recommendations, more than double the suggestions outlined in the commission’s report submitted in March this year.
The final report tackled areas such as economic development, humanitarian access, freedom of movement and citizenship law.
One key recommendation made - allow all living in Rakhine to move about freely, regardless of their religion, ethnicity or citizenship status.
For the last five years, about 120,000 Rohingyas have been confined in displaced persons camps and are not allowed to leave those camps without authorization, resulting in unemployment and no access to healthcare and education.
Another proposal is to review the controversial 1982 citizenship law which does not acknowledge Rohingyas as one of the ethnic groups in Myanmar.
RE-EXAMINE LINK BETWEEN CITIZENSHIP AND ETHNICITY
The commission called on the government to re-examine the link between citizenship and ethnicity. Monitoring the performance of the security forces is also one of the recommendations.
The commission suggested that one way of doing so was to make sure all security personnel wear visible name badges and identification numbers.
In order to implement the recommendations, the nine members suggest Myanmar should set up a secretariat led by a minister to focus on coordinating the policies to be introduced in Rakhine.
A permanent and well-staffed secretariat should include civilians, military personnel and various Rakhine community leaders. The commission members did not address the allegations of atrocities against the Rohingyas in their report maintaining it’s not under their mandate.
But they did acknowledge that a highly militarized response in Rakhine is not going to bring peace to the area. They added that the situation requires an integrated and calibrated response.
If human rights concerns are not addressed, the commission warns that Northern Rakhine State may become fertile ground for radicalisation.
This may then undermine development prospects and inter-communal cohesion, threatening overall security for Rakhine.
During the course of their work, the commission members held more than 150 consultation meetings, spoke to more than 1,000 people, visited various parts of Rakhine and even traveled to other countries such as Bangladesh and Thailand.
In the report’s foreword, Annan said the members have carried out their mandate "with rigorous impartiality".
And if the recommendations are "adopted and implemented in the spirit in which they were conceived", Annan believes it can "trace a path to lasting peace in Rakhine state".
Annan added that he’s “deeply conscious of the obstacles that lie ahead.”
But he is "convinced that the people of Rakhine can grasp this opportunity to reclaim their future".