Burma

Arakan Report Angers Rohingya Leaders

By Simon Roughneen 29 April 2013

RANGOON — Rohingya leaders have reacted angrily to the findings of the official investigation into a wave of brutal violence that hit Arakan State in 2012, slamming the report findings as selective and slanted.

Speaking after members of a commission formed last year to investigate the violence presented a summary of their report today in Rangoon, Myo Thant, a Rohingya representative of the Democracy and Human Rights Party, told The Irrawaddy that the report did not present a completely accurate picture of the Arakan situation.

“This report has some good suggestions, but in ways it is biased and incomplete,” he said.

Commission members, including former political prisoners Ko Ko Gyi and Maung Thura, better known as Zarganar, launched the summary of the commission’s findings today at the Myanmar Peace Center.

The commission recommended that the Burmese government increase security in the troubled western region and said that resettlement of more than 100,000 displaced people should be held off until reconciliation measures are implemented.

“It will take time for reconciliation to work, as the conflict is still fresh,” said commission member Aung Naing Oo of the Myanmar Peace Center, a government-backed think-tank, who added that it was more important in the short term to address humanitarian needs in the region.

The report summary said that “it is extremely urgent to provide the Bengali IDPs with access to safe and secure temporary shelters prior to the monsoon season.”

The commission proposed that the Burmese government set up a “truth-finding committee” to look into the deeper causes of the 2012 violence, which began as rioting between Arakanese Buddhists and local Muslims, but, say human rights groups, later took on the hallmarks of a pogrom against Muslims, focusing on the Rohingya, a stateless minority of around 800,000 people.

“We welcome those suggestions,” said Myo Thant, speaking after the report launch.

However, the 28-page report summary released today did not use the term “Rohingya,” in keeping with the Burmese government’s view that the Rohingya are immigrants from Bangladesh, which shares a border with Burma’s Arakan State.

“How can they say we are all immigrants?” asked Myo Thant. “Arakan is like hell, why would any Bangladeshi want to migrate to there. It makes no sense.”

Commission member Yin Yin Nwe, an economic advisor to Burma’s President Thein Sein, said that the report stuck with the terminology outlined by the government. “We use the term ‘Bengali’ as this is the official term as part of the citizenship laws,” she said.

As expected, the commission did not recommend any amendment to Burma’s widely criticized 1982 citizenship law, which denies the Rohingya Burmese citizenship.

Phil Robertson, the deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said that “the commission missed a critical point when it failed to include reform of the 1982 Citizenship Act to strip out discriminatory provisions and ensure that the law complies with international human rights standards.”

The report summary—published in advance of the full 200-page report, which is scheduled for release next week—said the Burmese government “should address the citizenship claims of the Bengalis in a transparent and accountable manner.”

Asked by The Irrawaddy how these citizenship disputes could be resolved under the terms of the 1982 law, commission member Ko Ko Gyi said that “the problem is not with the law as it stands, it is with the implementation. If we practiced the law exactly, then we would not have seen the violence in Rakhine (Arakan) State last year.”

Mohamed Salim, spokesperson for the National Development and Peace Party, said that this refusal to acknowledge the Rohingya by name smacked of discrimination. He also took issue with suggestions that “family planning education” be provided to the “Bengali population,” which the commission said could offset Arakanese fears of Rohingya population growth.

“We are Rohingya, not Bengali, and that is the main point that is wrong with this report,” he said. “I am angry because of that.”

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