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Arakan Commission must address ‘decades of discrimination’: Amnesty

FILE PHOTO: Buddhist monks lead a protest against the opening of an office by the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation. (PHOTO: DVB)

Human rights watchdog Amnesty International has welcomed the establishment of a high-level Arakan Commission headed by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, but has called for it to address the human rights situation in the volatile region, while investigating decades of discrimination against minorities.

“The commission should investigate decades of discrimination against minorities in Rakhine [Arakan] State, ensure accountability, recommend reparations, and lead efforts at reconciliation,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, in a statement on Wednesday.

“However, a Commission isn’t needed to take immediate steps to restore rights and dignity to the Rohingya and other Muslims in Rakhine State. A first step would be to lift the restrictions on their freedom of movement, and allow them the chance to seek education, employment, aid and assistance.”

Djamin added: “For the Commission to be truly effective, it must ensure an independent, impartial and thorough investigation of human rights violations in Rakhine State. Only when the facts have been established can Myanmar move towards accountability and dismantling the systemic discrimination that Rohingyas face.”

One of the nine members appointed to the commission is schoolteacher and founder of the interfaith group Religions for Peace, Aye Lwin. Speaking to DVB on Thursday, he said he was confident that this national initiative will tackle the delicate issues of race and religion in Arakan State.

“Third-party intervention is very important, and all those who will be included are from different races. For example, Kofi Annan is protestant by faith, and Mr Ghassan Salame is Lebanese and Christian by faith. So this is very impartial third-party intervention,” he said by telephone.

Aye Lwin said he had already had discussions with different religious groups in Arakan State, and assured them that local subcommittees were likely to be formed to work with the Advisory Commission.

“Even the monks are happy about that … .and we addressed any misconceptions or doubts [about the Commission] they might have,” he said.

However, other groups have voiced some reservations about the international representatives.

Moe Thway from Generation Wave said he welcomes Kofi Annan’s appointment but “at the same time, I am a bit sad that the international intervention means we cannot resolve this problem ourselves.”

He added: “If we had enough tolerance and patience and acceptance of diversity, I believe we could make it ourselves.”

The mandate of the Advisory Commission has not been formally announced, but is expected to address conflict prevention, humanitarian assistance, rights and reconciliation, institution building, and development in Arakan State.

When asked if the controversial Race and Religion laws might be discussed by the Commission, Aye Lwin said, “I don’t think it will be on our priority list. The task for us is to find a solution for conflict resolution and peaceful co-existence and development projects.”

Meanwhile, state media on Thursday carried an official announcement from Aung San Suu Kyi’s State Counsellor Office, naming the nine appointed members of the Advisory Commission.

It confirmed that Kofi Annan would chair the Commission, which is to comprise three international members and six Burmese members.

The Global New Light of Myanmar named them as: Win Mra, chair of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission; Dr. Thar Hla Shwe, president of Myanmar Red Cross Society; Ghassan Salame, former Lebanese Minister of Culture and former UN Special Advisor to the Secretary-General; Laetitia van den Assum, the former Special Advisor to UNAIDS, and former Netherlands’

Ambassador to the UK; Aye Lwin, a core member and founder of Religions for Peace; Dr. Mya Thida, the president of the Obstetrical and Gynecological Society of MMA, and a member of the Myanmar Academy of Medical Science; Khin Maung Lay, a member of the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission; and Daw Saw Khin Tint, the chairperson of the Rakhine Literature and Culture Association, and vice-chairperson of the Rakhine Women’s Association.