Government Rejects EU Call For Independent Investigation Into Rohingya Exodus

By Htet Naing Zaw 19 February 2018

Naypyitaw—In response to an EU parliamentary delegation’s demand for an independent investigation into alleged suppression of Muslim minorities in northern Rakhine State, the Myanmar government has said it does not believe any foreign investigation would be independent and fair.

“Myanmar has cooperated with Yanghee Lee (the UN special rapporteur on human rights in Myanmar), who talked about an independent investigation. But the claims she made after her visit were not fair. Therefore, we won’t agree to a fact-finding mission [sought by the EU], nor investigations by foreign countries,” U Zaw Htay, spokesperson of the President’s Office told The Irrawaddy.

The European parliamentary delegation, led by Pier Antonio Panzeri, visited Myanmar from Feb. 12-16, and during a press conference on Friday, the Italian politician called for the government to allow an independent investigation into human rights violations of Muslim minorities in northern Rakhine State.

Panzeri said that the latest developments in Rakhine State called for such an investigation because the report conducted by the Kofi Annan-led Advisory Commission was made some time ago, and did not cover the current situation.

“According to my experience, if democratic transition stalls for some reason, the country is likely to face renewed challenges that it had already experienced,” he said.

U Zaw Htay said that there was a huge gap between the understanding of the Myanmar people and foreign countries’ perception of the Rakhine issue. And that gap would continue to exist if foreign countries did not take the concerns and experiences of the Myanmar people into consideration.

“The majority [of Myanmar people] don’t believe that an independent international investigation would be fair and independent. They don’t think it is necessary,” he said.

Over 650,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled to neighboring Bangladesh since Aug. 25 last year after the Myanmar military cracked down on insurgents in Rakhine State. The Myanmar government has rejected the UN’s label of the military’s activities as ethnic cleansing.

Myanmar’s main problem is not the Rohingya issue, but democratic transition, ethnic affairs analyst U Maung Maung Soe said.

“Of 330 townships in Myanmar, this problem is happening in just two townships. An excessive focus on this problem will affect the democratic transition of the country. It is important for us to explain to the international community what is really important for the country,” he said.

It would be difficult, he added, for any government to accept an international investigation, but the Myanmar government should allow access to information as much as possible.

Former Thai foreign minister Surakiart Sathirathai, who was appointed by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to chair the Advisory Board of the Committee for the Implementation of the Recommendations on Rakhine State, told The Bangkok Post that the civilian government and Myanmar Army had some differences over implementation of the recommendations submitted by the Annan commission.

The EU parliamentary delegation noted that over 650,000 people would not flee without reason, and demanded that EU representatives be allowed to visit the disputed area, adding that the case had upset the relations between Myanmar and the member states of the European group.

The UN’s Lee has said that the Rakine issue is unlikely to reach an international court as Myanmar is not a member of the International Criminal Court and the UN Security Council is unlikely to declare the Tatmadaw’s treatment of the Rohingya as ethnic cleansing because China, as a permanent member in UN Security Council, could veto such a declaration.

Surakiart suggested that the UN refugee agency, the International Red Cross Society and Asean countries should take part in the early stages of repatriating and resettling refugees from Bangladesh.