State-Level Arakan Investigation Commission Formed

By The Irrawaddy 2 December 2016

RANGOON — A state-level commission to investigate deadly attacks in northern Arakan State was formed by Burma’s president on Thursday, nearly two months after clashes broke out between government troops and militants.

The commission formation statement, signed by President U Htin Kyaw, said the 13-member commission led by Burma’s Vice President-1 U Myint Swe was assigned to look into seven different points including the background and causes of attacks in Maungdaw Township, verification of outside allegations during area clearance operations, deaths, injuries, destruction and other damage.

The members include a former UN senior advisor, the president of the Women’s Affairs Federation, a National Human Rights Commission member, lawmakers, Burma’s police force chief as well as the country’s interfaith chairman.

The investigation commission was formed according to a resolution from the third work coordination meeting of the Central Committee for the Implementation of Peace, Stability and Development in Arakan State. The committee is led by State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

On Friday, Amnesty International released a statement on the formation of the investigation commission and urged the government for credibility, stating, “it will only be effective if it is independent, impartial and applies international human rights law and standards.”

“The Myanmar authorities should also grant independent observers, journalists and human rights monitors unfettered access to northern Rakhine State. A credible investigation cannot take place under the cover of darkness, where only parties with an interest in the outcome can visit the affected areas,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s Director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

The violence in Maungdaw first broke out on Oct. 9 when three police outposts in the area were attacked by a group of assailants, killing security forces and looting firearms and ammunition. Since then, clashes between government troops and militants scattered across the area where security forces have been carrying out “area clearance operations” have continued and the government has made dubious claims that the attackers were linked to outside terrorist organizations. According to government statistics, 70 people and 17 soldiers and policemen were killed in the ongoing violence and 528 arrests have been made.

The formation of the official investigation commission came after the Burmese government suffered international criticism for a lack of transparency in handling the issue, and for restricting media access to the conflict-torn area. Security forces in the area have been accused of burning Muslim villages, rape and extrajudicial killings during the operations, but the government has denied all of the accusations.

The commission will report its findings to the president by Jan. 31. President’s Office spokesperson U Zaw Htay was unavailable to comment on Friday.

In 2012, communal violence between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims erupted in Arakan State, killing hundreds. Since 2012, communal strife between the two groups has killed scores and displaced up to 140,000 people.

Daw Aung San Suu Kyi founded the Arakan State Advisory Commission in August as an impartial body to propose concrete measures for improving the welfare of all people in Arakan State. It is composed of six locals and three international experts, and is chaired by former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

On Friday, the chairman and his entourage visited Arakan State in order to examine the conflict in the northern part of the state.