Asean backs latest Rakhine probe

Asean foreign ministers welcomed the newly established so-called independent commission to investigate human rights violations in Myanmar’s Rakhine state.

Myanmar’s presidential office announced on Monday that it has set up a commission as part of a national initiative to address reconciliation, peace and development in Rakhine. Led by the Philippines’ former deputy foreign minister, Rasario Manalo, the body was denounced by observers as a political gimmick to reduce international pressure, notably from the United Nations, over the alleged ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya community. The Asean foreign ministers discussed and received a briefing from Myanmar’s minister for the Office of the State Counsellor Kyaw Tint on the humanitarian situation.

In a joint statement issued after the meeting in Singapore on Thursday, Asean’s ministers said they welcomed the establishment of the commission. “We expressed our continued support for Myanmar in its effort to bring peace, stability and the rule of law, to promote harmony and reconciliation among various communities as well as to ensure sustainable and equitable development in Rakhine state,” according to the statement.

Some 700,000 Muslim Rohingya fled from the state from August last year after a group of Rohingya militants allegedly attacked border outposts, prompting a harsh response from the military and a clearance operation affecting the broader Rohingya population. The ministers welcomed the arrangement on the return of those displaced from Rakhine state between Myanmar and Bangladesh signed in November 2017, and the memorandum of understanding signed by Myanmar and United Nations agencies in June to facilitate the repatriation process.

“We underlined the importance of the expeditious commencement of the voluntary return of the displaced to Myanmar in a safe, secure and dignified way without undue delay, and stressed the need to find a comprehensive and durable solution to address the root causes of the conflict and to create a conducive environment so that the affected communities can rebuild their lives,” the statement said.  The UN and many international rights defenders blamed the government and the military for ethnic cleansing during the crackdown.

A Fortify Rights report indicated that the military had planned the genocide of the Rohingya and called for the International Criminal Court to prosecute those responsible. However, the Office of the President issued a statement blaming the supposed militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, for the violence in Rakhine.  While Asean called on Myanmar to address problems at the root cause of the conflict, the group refrained from mentioning the issue of ethnic cleansing under the clearance operations.

Manalo, 83, a career diplomat, political scientist and educator in the Philippines, is the special representative of the Philippines to the Asean Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, but many rights defenders were not impressed by her earlier performances.  Other members of the commission are Kenzo Oshima, a former Japanese permanent representative to the UN, Myanmar’s former constitutional-tribunal chair, Mya Thein, and Aung Tun Thet, formerly of Unicef.  The commission will be assisted by national and international legal and technical experts, according to Nay Pyi Taw.