Release of Arakan Unrest Report Unclear, Further Delay Likely

By Aye Kyawt Khaing 29 March 2013

RANGOON — A much-delayed government inquiry into last year’s sectarian violence in Arakan State is due for release in two days, but investigation commission members said on Friday that they did not know if it would be publicized as planned. Another postponement of the report seems likely.

The President’s Office announced the formation of the commission in August to investigate the root causes of communal violence between Buddhist Arakanese and Rohingya Muslims in Arakan State in western Burma.

The 27-member group would submit its final report by the end of March—already four months later than originally planned. An interim report was due to be sent to the president on Nov. 17.

Waves of bloody inter-communal violence broke out in large parts of Arakan State in June 2012. More than 120,000 people, mostly Muslim Rohingyas, were displaced by the violence and scores of people were killed.

Dr Aye Maung, one of the commission members and a MP from Arakan State, told The Irrawaddy that he was not sure whether the report would be released as planned, because the commission has not yet convened for a final discussion of the report’s contents.

“If the report is released without consensus of all members, then they also won’t know the facts in the final report,” he said, “and then the media and public would think that the commission report is just superficial.”

A further delay of the highly-anticipated report now seems likely.

Asked if the potential delay was related to the anti-Muslim riots in central Burma, Dr Aye Maung said, “It does not relate with the current riot situations. It is an issue of the commission and its members.”

Kyaw Yin Hlaing, the commission’s secretary, said he could not confirm whether or not the report will be released on Monday, as only the President’s Office can decide on its release.

“The President Office has full authority over the report,” he said. “We will make a press conference about the [Arakan] report only after it is released.”

Apart from exposing the reasons behind the waves of inter-communal violence that rocked Arakan State between June and October last year, the report was also supposed to make recommendations on how the government should handle religious and ethnic issues in the future.

The commission’s members include leaders of the country’s four main religions, as well as politicians, civil society activists and journalists.

Ba Shein, an MP from Arakan State who is not on the commission, said the findings of the report would be highly sensitive, but he added that the current riots had probably not delayed its release.

“I wonder if the report would please both parties [Buddhist Arakanese and Rohingya Muslims],” he said, adding, “If it is delayed, it has nothing to do with the recent riots. It’s just up to the commission and the President’s Office.”

The Rohingyas in Arakan State are believed to number around 800,000 people, but they not officially recognized as citizens of Burma and have little support in the country. Thousands have fled on boats into the Bay of Bengal in recent months to escape communal violence, while more than 120,000 are staying in refugee camps.

International medical charities and human rights groups have condemned the government’s attitude towards the Rohingyas and are especially critical of the lack of government support for the refugee camps, where conditions are extremely dire.

On Wednesday, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch said it had conducted field research in Arakan State. The group concluded that Burma’s government “is systematically restricting humanitarian aid and imposing discriminatory policies on Rohingya Muslims.”