Guest Column

Is Bangladesh Really Interested in Justice on Rakhine Issue?

By Nyein Maung 12 April 2019

Bangladesh has finally allowed the Independent Commission of Enquiry (ICOE) to visit the country. According to a press release on the ICOE’s website, the Bangladeshi foreign minister has agreed in principle to meet with the commission next month. What is unclear—and frankly, this must be the crux of the issue—is whether Bangladeshi authorities will allow the ICOE to conduct evidence gathering in Cox’s Bazar. No information on this is available on the ICOE’s website.

However, informed diplomatic sources say that Bangladesh has not yet given the ICOE’s Evidence Collection and Verification Team (ECVT) the green light to visit Cox’s Bazar to collect evidence and data. This is a great disappointment to those seeking information on what really prompted the massive displacement of people from Myanmar to Bangladesh in the wake of clearance operations by the Myanmar military in northern Rakhine starting in late 2017 following a series of attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on security outposts.

It also reflects poorly on Bangladesh, which has in the past given access to the UN Fact Finding Mission, U.S. State Department Documentation Team and international NGOs to tour Cox’s Bazar collecting evidence, statements, interviews and pictures, etc. If Bangladesh does not allow the ICOE to conduct its own investigation in Cox’s Bazar, it could be seen as acting in “bad faith”. The natural question would be: Does Bangladesh have something to hide?

The ICOE was established just under a year ago by the Union President’s Office. In a press release dated July 30, 2018, it stated that the ICOE was established as part of its national initiative to address reconciliation, peace, stability and development in Rakhine. The ICOE is made up of international and national members. “The ICOE will investigate allegations of human rights violations and related issues, following the terrorist attacks by the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA),” the statement reads. According to the terms published on its website, the ICOE is supposed to submit reports with recommendations to the Union President. The use of the plural “reports” indicates that ICOE may be preparing more than one submission to the President.

The world has only read reports documenting alleged atrocities that have purportedly taken place in Myanmar, by such organizations as Amnesty International, Fortify Rights, the UN Fact Finding Mission and others. It is resoundingly clear that those reports are based on narratives of people living in Cox’s Bazar. The ICOE provides an opportunity to inform the world of the facts based on evidence. They should be allowed into Bangladesh to take evidence and do the necessary cross-verification and seek corroboration of the facts back in Myanmar. The ICOE’s report should differ from other international organizations’ reports, which are based on people’s narratives in one country. It should be evidence-based, and that evidence should be verified. A one-sided, narrative-based report will do nothing to achieve the accountability and justice the world seeks.

Nyein Maung is a freelance researcher on Rakhine issues. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s alone.