Commission Invites Victims of Violence in Rakhine State to Submit Evidence

By Htet Naing Zaw 12 December 2018

NAYPYITAW—The commission formed by the Myanmar government with the purpose of investigating allegations of human rights violations against the Rohingya community in Rakhine State said that they welcome victims of the alleged abuses to submit their evidence to them.

At a press conference in Naypyitaw on Wednesday, the commission said it had found no evidence so far to prove the widespread allegations that government security forces committed mass human rights abuses in northern parts of the state.

After months of pressure from international rights groups to allow an impartial investigation of allegations of arson, rape and murder by the Myanmar military in Rakhine State which followed attacks by Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on military and security outposts in northern Rakhine State in August last year, the Myanmar government in July formed a four-member commission to investigate the allegations.

The commission is led by Rosario Manalo, former deputy foreign minister of the Philippines and includes Kenzo Oshima, former permanent representative to the UN for Japan.

The two local members are U Mya Thein, former chair of Myanmar’s Constitutional Tribunal, and former senior official at UNICEF, U Aung Tun Thet, who is now chief coordinator of the Union Enterprise for Humanitarian Assistance, Resettlement and Development in Rakhine, which was formed in October last year.

In response to questions from The Irrawaddy at the press conference on Wednesday in Naypyitaw, Rosario Manalo said the commission has so far found no evidence in support of allegations.

“We will clarify how we collected the evidence later. But for the time being, allegations are still allegations. There is no conclusive evidence,” she said.

The commission launched their investigation on Aug. 15, and is to submit its findings to the President’s Office by August next year.

At the press conference, the commission urged victims to submit strong evidence with photos and video clips.

“They can submit the evidence in Myanmar, English, Arakanese or Bengali language. But evidence has to be submitted by January 31 at the latest,” said U Aung Tun Thet, a member of the commission.

The commission will hold a private interview with those submitting evidence in order to verify their authenticity.

The Myanmar government’s plans to form several committees and commissions to resolve the Rakhine issue did not work, said former political prisoner U Tun Kyi.

He also criticized the government’s lack of cooperation with the international community, saying that its outright denials do not solve the refugee crisis.

“The commission says evidence can be submitted by mail, e-mail and so on. The most important thing is how to reduce international pressure and help the refugees on the other side. [What the commission is doing] is not an answer,” he told The Irrawaddy.

The commission has met Deputy Commander-in-Chief of Defense Services Vice Snr-Gen Soe Win, home affairs minister Maj-Gen Kyaw Swe and other senior military officers, all of whom cooperated with the commission, said Rosario Manalo.

“We accepted the job because we think we can find the truth. The commission is responsible for investigating all the allegations of human rights violations that happened after August 2017,” she said.

At its first press conference in August, the commission said that it would carry out the investigation based on the Myanmar Investigation Committees Act 1950, international human rights and humanitarian laws.

“We can do nothing without evidence. We have to find out if allegations of human rights abuses and crimes are true so we have opened a way for victims and witnesses to submit evidence. We will do what is necessary depending on the evidence,” said U Mya Thein, a member of the commission.