CHIANG MAI, Thailand—The Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICoE) for Rakhine will commence its investigation into allegations of human rights violations and related issues following attacks on security posts in northern Rakhine State over the past two years and will report its findings to President U Win Myint within a year.
The commission began work on Aug. 15, two weeks after its establishment. Its two international experts and two local members met with government ministers and State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi on Aug. 14 and held a press briefing in Naypyitaw on Thursday.
Chaired by Philippine diplomat Rosario Malano, the ICoE finalized its terms of reference (TOR) this week, before launching its investigation into claims against Myanmar’s security forces, beginning with allegations of human rights violations in Rakhine State.
On July 30, the President’s Office established the ICoE and tasked it with investigating “allegations of human rights violations and related issues, following the terrorist attacks” in October 2016 and August 2017 by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) in northern Rakhine State. Following the attacks, the government denounced ARSA as a terrorist organization. Subsequent military “clearance operations” led to the displacement of some 700,000 Rohingya Muslims or “Bengalis” into Bangladesh.
The Commission said in its TOR it would be sure to cooperate with the respective ministries and on the government’s provision of security for the commissioners.
Ambassador Malano, a former deputy foreign minister of the Philippines, said the TOR ensured it would receive cooperation from the Myanmar government at the Union, state and regional levels and all relevant authorities in term of accessing information and securing testimony from military and police personnel.
Malano said the ICoE would seek accountability and formulate recommendations on steps to ensure peace and stability in Rakhine State.
In a response to The Irrawaddy’s question on whether the Commission would meet high-level military and police personnel deemed critical to the allegations, she said it welcomed the participation of all, regardless of their rank.
“Generally we can request [to meet] anybody who has knowledge of a case. We should cooperate, and we welcome cooperation and we will receive them and carry on the dialogue [necessary] to do the investigation,” she told The Irrawaddy.
She added that the commission will not “blame or finger-point” at anyone but seek “to cooperate” for peace in the region.
Insisting that the commission would be independent, Ms. Malano added, “What I can assure you is we are going to be independent and impartial and neutral, because truth is the only way forward.”
The commission will “certainly” work to meet communities on both sides of the Rakhine State conflict “to be fair and to be as impartial as possible.”
Regarding Myanmar nationalists’ opposition to the establishment of the commission, Ms. Malano said on Thursday that as a member country of ASEAN, the Philippines is ready to help “resolve the problems if we can be of help to [Myanmar].” She said member nations of ASEAN should uphold ASEAN’s spirit and attitude to work together for peace, security, cooperation and prosperity for the whole region.
“So any state in ASEAN, whether the Philippines or any of the member states, is very disposed to help a particular state; we will be there. I think this should be understood by those who objected to the creation of the commission,” she added.
As the Independent Commission of Enquiry begins its investigation, the previously formed Rakhine Advisory Board to the Committee for Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State on Thursday submitted its final report to State Counselor Daw Aung San San Suu Kyi and the committee chairman, Dr. Win Myat Aye, the Union Minister for Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
The Rakhine Advisory Board was chaired by Dr. Surakiart Sathirathai and assisted “by acting as a bridge builder” between the Myanmar government and the international community.
It praised the Implementation Committee for its ongoing efforts and progress in implementing the recommendations of the Advisory Commission led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, but also highlighted in its statement on Aug. 16 that it “recognized that much work remains to be done, particularly in the area of repatriation and resettlement.”
Htet Naing Zaw contributed to this report from Naypyitaw.