The Myanmar government has chosen former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to head a newly formed advisory commission to resolve obstacles to development and sectarian tensions between Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in troubled Rakhine state where the majority of the country’s Rohingya ethnic minority group lives.
“The nine-member Advisory Commission, a national initiative to resolve protracted issues in the region, will be chaired by former secretary-general of the United Nations, chairman and founder of the Kofi Annan Foundation and noble laureate, Mr. Kofi Annan, and will be composed of three international and six national persons of eminence who are highly experienced, respected and neutral individuals,” said an article in the government newspaper Global New Light of Myanmar based on an announcement issued Wednesday by the office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi.
She will sign a memorandum of understanding with the Kofi Annan Foundation, a Geneva, Switzerland-based nonprofit organization that works to promote better global governance and achieve a fairer more peaceful world, the article said.
The commission is tasked with reviewing humanitarian and development issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the Rakhine people in western Myanmar, the article said, though it did not mention the Rohingya by name.
The Rohingya Muslims, most of whom live in Rakhine, have borne the brunt of decades of routine discrimination that also has affected the state’s other minority groups, including ethnic Rakhine, Kaman Muslims, Christians, and Hindus.
“The commission will undertake assessments and make recommendations by focusing on conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, institution building and promotion of development of Rakhine state,” the article. “It will also examine international aspects of the situation, including the background of those seeking refugee status abroad.”
The commission’s Myanmar members, which include both Buddhists and Muslims, are Win Mra, chairman of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC); Thar Hla Shwe, president of Myanmar Red Cross Society; Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader and founder of the interfaith group Religions for Peace Myanmar; Mya Thida, president of the Obstetrical and Gynecological Society of the Myanmar Medical Association and member of the Myanmar Academy of Medical Science; Khin Maung Lay, member of the MNHRC; Saw Khin Tint, chairwoman of the Rakhine Literature and Culture Association in Yangon and vice chairwoman of the Rakhine Women’s Association.
Besides Annan, the two other international members of the commission are Ghassan Salamé, a Lebanese academic and former senior advisor to Annan when he was U.N. secretary-general, and Laetitia van den Assum, a career Dutch diplomat and former advisor to the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS.
After holding meetings with all relevant stakeholders, international experts and foreign dignitaries, the commission must submit its findings and recommendations to the Myanmar government via Aung San Suu Kyi and publish a report within 12 months, the article said.
London-based rights group Amnesty International welcomed the creation of the commission to address the human rights situation in Rakhine.
“For the commission to be truly effective, it must ensure an independent, impartial and thorough investigation of human rights violations in Rakhine state,” said Rafendi Djamin, the group’s director for South East Asia and the Pacific. “Only when the facts have been established can Myanmar move towards accountability and dismantling the systemic discrimination that Rohingyas face.”
“However, a commission isn’t needed to take immediate steps to restore rights and dignity to the Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine state,” he said. “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.”
Some 140,000 Rohingya Muslims were displaced after violence erupted four years ago between them and Rakhine Buddhists, leaving more than 200 dead and tens of thousands homeless after their houses were destroyed. The Rohingya, who bore the brunt of the attacks, were later forced to live in refugee camps.
About 120,000 Rohingya currently remain in the camps, while thousands of others have fled persecution in the Buddhist-dominated country on rickety boats to other Southeast Asian countries in recent years.
The government does not consider the Rohingya to be full citizens of Myanmar and denies them basic rights, freedom of movement, and access to social services and education.
Other plans for Rakhine
On June 1, the Myanmar government created the Central Committee for Implementation of Peace and Development in Rakhine State to put impoverished and strife-torn Rakhine on a path to peace and development.
Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto national leader, chairs the 27-member committee which include all government ministers and Rakhine state officials.
The National League for Democracy government has pledged to spend more than 70 billion kyats (U.S. $5.9 million) to develop Rakhine by financing goods and services that promote human resources, open migrant resource centers to help workers and conduct a transparent.
Kofi Annan, who was the U.N. secretary general from 1997 to 2006, and the United Nations jointly won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2001.
He also was the predecessor of current U.S. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, who will visit Myanmar at the end of August to participate in the government’s Panglong Peace Conference, an effort spearheaded by Aung San Suu Kyi to foster permanent peace and national reconciliation in Myanmar after decades of ethnic separatist civil wars.
Reported by Kyaw Soe Lin for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.