Pundits, Rights Experts Question Myanmar’s Implementation of Rakhine Recommendations

myanmar-maungdaw-residents-flee-oct13-2016.jpg Residents displaced by conflict flee from Maungdaw district in western Myanmar's Rakhine state following deadly attacks on border guard stations that prompted a crackdown by security forces, Oct. 13, 2016.

More than a year after the release of a final report by an advisory commission on troubled Rakhine state, political analysts and rights experts are casting doubt on the Myanmar government’s claim that it has implemented most of the panel’s recommendations.

The nine-member Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, led by late former United Nations chief Kofi Annan, called for reviews of the country’s Citizenship Law and an end to restrictions on its stateless Rohingya Muslim minority to prevent further violence in the beleaguered region. The recommendations were issued in August 2017 after a year-long review of ethnic and religious strife in the western state.

The report included recommendations on the country’s citizenship verification process for Rohingya, their rights and equality before the law, their freedom of movement, and the situation of those who are confined to internally displaced persons (IDP) camps.

The government of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, who set up the commission, has said it has implemented 81 of the report’s 88 recommendations aimed at forging lasting peace and stability in ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine state.

“There are 88 suggestions, and we have been working on 81 suggestions, though they have not been fully implemented yet,” said Win Myat Aye, Myanmar’s minister for social welfare, relief, and resettlement, who is overseeing the repatriation of Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh.

“There are some points that we don’t think we need to urgently implement,” he said. “If we think we don’t need to implement some points, then we won’t do it. We have worked especially on the points that are especially for development and stability.”

The international community has widely condemned the Myanmar government for its handling of a violent crackdown by security forces on Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine in response to a deadly attack by a militant Muslim group on Aug. 26, 2017 — a day after the release of the advisory commission’s report.

About 720,000 Rohingya fled to Bangladesh during the brutal campaign, which included indiscriminate killings, torture, rape, and village torchings. The government and Myanmar military have largely denied responsibility for the atrocities, which the U.N. and others have said amounted to ethnic cleansing and genocide.

Though Myanmar signed an agreement with Bangladesh for the return of Rohingya refugees who can be verified as having previously resided in Rakhine, the program has been beset by delays, and only a handful of people have returned. The stalled plan has sparked more criticism that Myanmar is not working fast enough to remedy the crisis.

‘Still working on them’

The Annan commission’s interim and final reports also recommended that the government set up an independent and impartial investigation of human rights violations following another crackdown on the Rohingya in Rakhine in response to smaller-scale attacks on Oct. 9, 2016, by the same Muslim militant group, and that the perpetrators be held accountable.

“It seems like the Myanmar government talks about how it has implemented 81 recommendations, but it is still working on them,” said Myanmar’s outspoken former information minister Ye Htut. “So it is not practical to say that the 81 recommendations have been implemented.”

He noted that Myanmar still hasn’t opened its doors to accepting Rohingya refugees from Bangladesh even though the two countries signed an agreement to do so almost a year ago.

“We can say that it has been implemented only after some verified refugees have been accepted back,” Ye Htut said.

Many Rohingya are fearful of returning to Myanmar, where they are viewed as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, denied citizenship, and subjected to systematic discrimination, unless their safety can be assured and they are guaranteed certain rights.

Cheery Zahau, an ethnic Chin human rights activist in Myanmar, said lawmakers must hold public discussions and debates on the country’s 1982 Citizenship Law that prevents the Rohingya from becoming citizens.

Aye Lwin, a Muslim leader in Myanmar and a member of the Annan commission, said that although the government has made progress on the recommendations in the final report, it has sometimes made mistakes and is generally moving slowly to implement them.

“The willingness and qualities of people who are working on the ground are important in the implementation of these recommendations,” he said.

Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, head of an advisory commission on western Myanmar's Rakhine state, gestures during a press conference in Yangon, Dec. 6, 2016.
Former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan, head of an advisory commission on western Myanmar's Rakhine state, gestures during a press conference in Yangon, Dec. 6, 2016.
Credit: AFP
Board members visit Maungdaw

Myanmar later established a 10-person international board advising the government on how to implement the recommendations of the Annan commission, but one member — veteran American diplomat Bill Richardson — abruptly left, calling the panel a “whitewash” and a “cheerleading squad for the government.”

In August 2018, the remaining members recommended that the government set up a new inquiry commission specifically to investigate human rights violations in Rakhine state. That four-person commission, which has met three times since July, is now beginning to gather and analyze information and evidence by setting up a subcommittee.

On Wednesday, five members of the Advisory Board for the Committee for the Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State met separately with ethnic Rakhine and Rohingya community leaders in Maungdaw township, the nexus of the 2016 and 2017 crackdowns, a day after the two-year anniversary of the first brutal campaign.

They talked about ways to jointly resolve current communal problems and the possibility of leaders from both communities holding talks.

Rakhine leaders tend to echo the Myanmar government’s denial that atrocities were committed against Rohingya, and Maungdaw’s Rakhine residents refused the committee’s suggestion that both communities hold discussions.

Muslim Rakhine leaders, however, agreed to meet with their Buddhist ethnic Rakhine counterparts, and board member Roelof Petrus Meyer, a former South Africa politician, said he would arrange the meeting, Maungdaw community leader Aung Kyaw Nyunt told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

Aung Kyaw Nyunt said it's important for the government to work on stopping violence by Muslims.

“It’s not like two communities in Maungdaw are having problems,” he said. “The current problems occurred because of violence by Muslim terrorists. We haven’t had any problem with Muslims who didn’t participate in the violence, and we are still living together in town.”

“The most important thing is to clear out the terrorists, and only the government can do this,” he added.

Reported by Win Naing, Min Thein Aung, and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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