A long-awaited official report on last year’s deadly communal violence in Burma’s Rakhine state has recommended that security forces be doubled in the area and more aid be channeled to help minority Muslim Rohingyas displaced in the clashes with ethnic Buddhists.
The report presented at a press conference in Rangoon by the government-appointed commission on Monday also recommended a process to examine the citizenship status of the largely stateless Rohingyas but did not hint at any major reforms that will embrace them as citizens.
“The government should double the strength of the Tatmadaw [military], the police force, intelligence personnel, and Na-Sa-Ka [border security force] personnel assigned to Rakhine State to control and prevent further violence,” the report said.
The security forces should also be better equipped with more resources, while navy patrols should be bolstered and a maritime police force established to deter immigrants arriving by boat, it said.
The recommendations follow a report last week from Human Rights Watch accusing security forces of complicity in “ethnic cleansing" against the Rohingya, regarded in Burma as immigrants from Bangladesh even though they have long lived in the country.
The report, which did not state the current size of the security forces in the state, came nearly a year after the first of two major clashes between Rohingyas and ethnic Buddhist Rakhines occurred in June 2012.
The June violence together with clashes in October left at least 192 dead and 140,000 homeless, most of them Rohingyas who rights groups say bore the brunt of the worst communal violence in decades.
Chairman of the commission Kyaw Yin Hlaing told a press conference that the panel also found that Rohingya refugee camps need more aid than those housing Rakhines.
“We included information that camps for ethnic Rakhines are fairly good and the camps for [Rohingyas] are not as good,” he said.
Examining citizenship status
The report also asked the government “to urgently initiate a process for examining the citizenship status” of the estimated 800,000 Rohingyas in Rakhine State.
It said the process should be implemented according to the “provisions of the current 1982 Citizenship Law,” which officials had previously said only recognized as citizens those Rohingya whose families had settled in the country before independence from Britain in 1948.
While the citizenship status of many Rohingyas living in refugee camps since the clashes “remained unclear,” the government should protect their security and ensure their basic needs are met, the report said.
The commission’s report said that ongoing tensions called for “temporary separation” of the Rohingya and Rakhine communities to be enforced until “overt emotions subside,” making it unlikely displaced Rohingyas will be resettled in their homes anytime soon.
Ko Ko Gyi, a commission member and leader of the 88 Generation Students civil society group, said the Rakhine and Rohningya communities should remain segregated for the time being to avoid further violence.
“We need to take our time to bring normalcy to the different communities that cannot live together in the same place right now,” he said.
'Failure' to account for 'ethnic cleansing'
Human Rights Watch criticized the report, saying the authorities should first investigate reports of crimes committed by security forces during the violence before giving them additional powers and resources.
The report “fails to address the need for accountability for ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity,” the group’s Asia deputy director Phil Robertson said.
"Doubling the number of security forces in Arakan [Rakhine] state without first ensuring implementation of reforms to end those forces’ impunity is a potential disaster,” he said.
Robertson also said that the commission had “missed a critical point” in failing to include reform of the Citizenship Law in its recommendations.
Family planning and population growth
One factor in the violence was the “rapid population growth” of Rohingyas in the state that had fueled insecurity among Rakhines, the report said, recommending family planning measures among the Rohingya as a way to mitigate future tensions.
Rakhines’ concern about the rise of the Rohingya population had “undermined” the “peaceful coexistence” of the two communities, the report said.
Another cause of last year’s violence, the report said, was that the government did not have enough information about Rakhine “nationalist associations” to take “precautionary measures” against their activities.
Referring to Rohingyas under the official term of “Bengali,” which refers to immigrants from Bangladesh, the report said there was a “widely-held belief” among Rakhines in the area that “all Bengalis are illegal immigrants.”
But the government should still be responsible for their basic well-being, it said, taking a tone more welcoming toward the group than the government’s initial response to the violence.
“The government will have to meet the basic needs of non-citizens if they are denied livelihoods,” the report said.
In July, following the first wave of violence, President Thein Sein had called on the U.N.’s refugee agency to place Rohingyas living “illegally” in the country in refugee camps or have them sent abroad, saying Burma “cannot accept them.”
But ahead of U.S. President Barack Obama’s landmark visit to Burma in November, he said his government will consider resolving the contentious rights issues facing the Rohingya minority, including the possibility of providing them citizenship.
He said that “once emotions subside on all sides,” his government would be prepared to “address contentious political dimensions, ranging from resettlement of displaced populations to granting of citizenship” for the Rohingyas.
The 27-member commission, which comprises community leaders, was established in August 2012 and submitted its report after interviewing more than 2,000 local residents in Rakhine.
“Both [the Rakhine and Rohingya] sides told us various versions of the problems," Kyaw Yin Hlaing said.
“We have considered and decided which version could be correct among those versions.”
Reported by RFA’s Burmese Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.