A Myanmar government commission investigating allegations of recent violence in volatile Rakhine state has totally rejected U.N. claims that dozens of Rohingya Muslims had been killed but highlighted a need for the stateless group to be granted citizenship to ease any potential violence.
The panel said its investigations did not produce any evidence to back claims by the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay that 48 Rohingya Muslims were killed by a mob of Buddhist Rakhines in the state’s Du Chee Yar Tan (Ducheeratan) village in January.
While their final report rejected suggestions of violence against Rohingyas, commission members recommended that eligible members of the minority group be allowed to become citizens under the country’s existing 1982 Citizenship Law so that they can take on leadership roles in administering their own communities.
Commission members, who were tasked with investigating a series of incidents in Du Chee Yar Tan and suggesting measures to end ethnic violence that has killed hundreds in the state over the past two years, said having more Rohingya citizens would help ease local tensions.
Giving citizenship to Rohingyas—whom Myanmar’s government considers outsiders from neighboring Bangladesh—would allow members of the group to administer their own villages, instead of being under the control of ethnic Rakhine village officials, commissioners said.
“If authorities implement the 1982 Citizenship Law, some of [the Rohingyas] will become citizens,” commission chairman Thar Hla Shwe told reporters at a press conference in the commercial capital Yangon Tuesday.
“Whoever becomes a citizen will have all the rights of a citizen and would be able to become a local administrator. So, we should not object to the 1982 law,” he said.
It was not clear which provision the commission’s report was referring to that would enable Rohingyas to gain citizenship.
International groups have criticized the law, which omits Rohingyas from a list of 135 recognized ethnic minorities, as discriminating against the group and effectively barring them from citizenship.
But Rohingya activists have argued that many of the 800,000 Rohingyas living in Myanmar should be eligible under Article 6 of the 1982 law, which states that anyone who is “already a citizen on the date this law comes into force is a citizen.”
In the meantime, villages with both Rohingya and Rakhine populations should be put under the direct control of the Maungdaw township administrator, the commission members said.
'Where are the bodies?'
The panel based its findings, which were submitted to President Thein Sein on Feb. 28, on interviews with 175 local residents in Maungdaw between Feb. 15 and 21.
Commission members said that during their investigation they found no evidence of deaths of Rohingya villagers, a conclusion which was in line with preliminary findings that have been challenged by U.N. rights officials.
“There were allegations of deaths, but we don’t see evidence of deaths,” commission secretary Kyaw Yin Hlaing said, according to the local online Irrawaddy journal.
Challenging critics to produce evidence to the contrary, he said there were no bodies found to indicate any killings had occurred.
“Where are the bodies, where were the dead bodies buried, what happened to the bodies? Nobody could tell us.”
Pillay had said in late January, citing what she called "credible" information, that at least 48 Rohingyas were killed in Du Chee Yar Tan in two "serious" incidents between Jan. 9 and 13 linked to the death of a Rakhine police officer.
The commission’s report found that villagers had likely killed the police sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein.
It also rejected claims by some NGOs and media reports that a fire that destroyed Rohingya houses in West Du Chee Yar Tan on Jan. 28 was set by security forces or Rakhine villagers.
“It is not possible that police set fire to the village as rumored,” Kyaw Yin Hlaing said.
The arson was committed by “an entity seeking to discredit the Government of Myanmar, and not by the police or by the Rakhine community as alleged,” the report said, according to the Democratic Voice of Burma.
Some earlier reports had alleged that Rohingya villagers had intentionally set the fire to their homes to gain sympathy from the international community.
The U.N.’s human rights envoy to Myanmar Tomas Ojea Quintana said late last month that he had received “allegations of the brutal killing of men, women and children, sexual violence against women, and the looting and burning of properties” during a police operation in Du Chee Yar Tan.
He warned that he would call for U.N. Human Rights Council involvement if the commission’s report was not found to be “up to international standards.”
Earlier investigations had failed to address allegations of violence against Rohingyas in Du Chee Yar Tan, he said.
The commission’s report criticized statements made by the U.N. and aid group Doctors Without Borders (MSF) indicating that violence did occur in the Rohingya village.
“The U.N. contributed in no small way to the conflation of this issue, by issuing reports without verifying the facts,” the report said, according to the Irrawaddy.
“Instead of working together with the Myanmar Government to resolve misunderstandings and problems, the U.N. has focused on trying to prove the veracity of its report, thereby wasting its time,” it said.
The release of the commission’s report followed a fresh fire in central Du Chee Yar Tan on Sunday.
Twelve Rohingya homes and a small mosque were destroyed in the blaze, according to the state-run New Light of Myanmar.
The newspaper reported eyewitnesses as saying that villagers had burned down their own houses, echoing earlier reports which said villagers had also caused the Jan. 28 fire themselves.
Reported by Yadanar Oo and Nay Myo Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.