RANGOON – The Kofi Annan-led Arakan State Advisory Commission released a list of urgent recommendations for the Burmese government to improve the situation in Arakan State in an interim report at a press conference in Rangoon on Thursday.
The report—which the commission said had been presented to both civilian and military
sections of the government—calls for immediate and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid organizations and the media to areas of northern Arakan State. Access to the region has been restricted since Burma Army “clearance operations” began in response to insurgent attacks on police border guard posts on Oct. 9 of last year.
In a recorded statement, head of the commission and former UN secretary general Kofi Annan acknowledged that the crisis facing Arakan State had changed since the advisory commission was established by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in September last year. Yet he emphasized that the commission’s mandate to tackle “long-standing obstacles to peace and development,” had not changed.
He did, however, call on the government to ensure that perpetrators of serious human rights violations would be held accountable and recommended that security forces in the area be properly trained to respect human rights and cultural and religious diversity.
Commission member Ghassan Salamé told reporters at the press conference that a recent trip to Bangladesh by three of the commission members—where they met with national and local officials as well as Rohingya refugees in camps near Cox’s Bazar—had prompted a recommendation to establish a joint committee between Burma and Bangladesh to address the crisis in Arakan State.
This committee should facilitate the return of refugees and combat human trafficking, illegal trade, illegal migration, and terrorism taking place across the border, according to the report.
He and the advisory commission also endorsed an “impartial and independent” investigation into reports of abuses by security forces in Arakan State since last year, which include the displacement of 75,000 Rohingya refugees to Bangladesh and allegations of torture, extrajudicial killings, and widespread sexual violence. But the commission, he pointed out, did not have the mandate or the forensic expertise to carry out such an investigation.
While the commission did not refer to the Rohingya by name—adhering to a Burmese government policy that recognizes only the “Muslim community of Arakan State”—Ghassan Salamé also urged the government to increase Muslim representation in political and civil society. As an interim step, the report notes, “the government should establish consultative mechanisms which give voice to the state’s Muslim inhabitants.”
He also encouraged the police force to better represent the composition of Arakan State and include more Muslim members.
The report calls for the closure of all internally displaced persons (IDPs) camps in Arakan State and the return or relocation of IDPs—displaced since violence broke out in 2012—to a place where they feel safe.
Salamé said that IDP camps were not “a natural state” in which state residents should be living. The report outlines Ramree, Kyein Ni Pyin, Ka Nyin Taw as three camps that could be dissolved as an initial step toward re-integration of displaced communities.
The government should establish a clear timeline for the citizenship verification process in Arakan State—only 2,000 Rohingya have been granted citizenship through this process to date—and that those granted citizenship be afforded all the rights, benefits, and freedoms associated with citizenship, the report advises.
An estimated 1 million Rohingya have been made stateless by Burmese laws that define citizenship along ethnic lines, and do not recognize the Rohingya as one of the country’s ethnic groups.
A birth registration campaign should be rolled out, according to the report. “It is not natural, in any country in the world, that babies do not have birth certificates,” Ghassan Salame told journalists.
In a statement issued on Thursday, Burma’s State Counselor’s Office—headed by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi—thanked the advisory commission and said that it concurred with the recommendations put forward.
“The large majority of the recommendations will be implemented promptly, with a view to maximum effectiveness,” the statement said.
At its launch in September last year, State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said that she believed the nine-member commission would bring credible advice in confronting tension in Arakan State.
The commission includes two Rangoon-based Muslim representatives, two Arakanese Buddhists and two government representatives, in addition to three members of the international community.
It will deliver its final report later this year.