RANGOON — Following publication of a Human Rights Watch report alleging government complicity in ethnic cleansing in Burma’s Arakan State, the government says it will not comment on the situation in the troubled region until its own findings are published.
Those findings are likely to be released on Tuesday.
“We have already formed the commission involving people from all sides of the community,” said Ye Htut, spokesperson for President Thein Sein, when asked by The Irrawaddy about the Human Rights Watch report.
Human Rights Watch alleged on Monday that “Buddhist monks organized and encouraged ethnic Arakanese backed by state security forces to conduct coordinated attacks on Muslim neighborhoods and villages in October 2012 to terrorize and forcibly relocate the population.”
“We don’t need to pay attention to any such reports as the Human Rights Watch,” added Ye Htut, who is also Burma’s deputy information minister .
The official investigation into violence in Arakan State was set up in August 2012, following sectarian and communal rioting in Arakan State in June. Among the 27 commissioners are some well-known political figures in Burma, such as former political prisoner Ko Ko Gyi, Khun Htun Oo, the leader of the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy, and National Democratic Force leader Khin Maung Swe.
Burmese Muslim leaders, along with Christian, Hindu and Buddhist representatives, were appointed to the commission, but two Muslim commissioners were subsequently removed by order of the President’s Office. And though two Arakanese representatives were appointed, there was no Rohingya representation on the commission
Minority Rohingya Muslims, regarded by the Burmese government as illegal immigrants, were worst affected by the 2012 violence, in which more than 180 people were killed and 120,000 displaced, with tens of thousands more fleeing Burma as refugees, often by boat to Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand.
According to commission member Maung Thura, a comedian and former political prisoner known by his stage name Zarganar, the commission’s report has already been sent to President Thein Sein’s office and could be published as soon as Tuesday, though it is not clear if the entire document will be made public.
Asked for his take on the newly released Human Rights Watch claims, Zarganar told The Irrawaddy that “this is a made-up report.”
Burma’s main opposition political party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), is not represented on the Arakan investigative commission. Senior party figures, including Aung San Suu Kyi, have been criticized by human rights groups for failing to decry violence against Muslims in sufficiently strong terms, though NLD leader Suu Kyi called for a revision of the nation’s citizenship law when speaking in Japan last week.
“There is discrimination among citizens in our country,” she said. “We should also determine if certain laws are a hindrance to equal rights among citizens in the country, and revise them if we can.”
Asked on Monday about allegations of government complicity in abuses in Arakan State, NLD spokesperson Nyan Win said he had not seen the HRW report, and could not therefore comment.