Rakhine Commission Criticizes Govt Spokesman For Calling it a 'Shield'

By San Yamin Aung 25 June 2018

YANGON — In a new report, Myanmar’s Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, has criticized comments made by a government spokesman last year about its supposed purpose.

When asked about the commission’s raison d’etre in July 2017, U Zaw Htay, who is also director-general of the State Counselor’s Office, said it served to protect the government from international criticism.

“Whenever there is an accusation from the international community, we say we are taking action in line with the recommendations of the Kofi Annan commission. The commission is serving as a shield for us,” he said at the time.

In a report released earlier this month assessing its own work, “Lessons Learned,” the advisory commission said the spokesman’s comment hurt both the government and the commission.

“Such statements cast doubts on the government’s sincerity in addressing the challenges in Rakhine and undermined the credibility of the commission,” it said.

The commission said it did not react publicly to U Zaw Htay’s comment but submitted a complaint to the Office of State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

Amid mounting international pressure over the government’s handling of communal violence in Rakhine State, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi appointed Annan, a fellow Nobel Laureate, to chair the newly formed advisory commission in August 2016. The commission was tasked with advising the government on ways to bring development and lasting peace to a restive region and submitted its report to the state counselor at the end of its one-year mandate.

AI Haj U Aye Lwin, a member of the commission, told The Irrawaddy that the body made a verbal complaint about U Zaw Htay’s comment at the time because it risked creating the wrong impression, especially internationally.

“We didn’t send a formal complaint letter and communicated verbally about the comment instead,” he said.

U Zaw Htay, an ex-military official, previously served as spokesman for former President U Thein Sein and has drawn criticism for inflammatory statements before, especially those targeting Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State.