Myanmar sets up independent body to investigate claims of human rights violations in Rakhine

The Myanmar government has set up an independent commission to investigate the allegation of human-rights violations in the country’s Rakhine State.

Led by the Philippines’ former deputy foreign minister, Rasario Manalo, the Independent Commission of Enquiry was set up as part of a national initiative to address reconciliation, peace and development in Rakhine, according to a statement issued on Monday by Myanmar’s Office of the President. The latest move was made after international pressure, notably from the United Nations, on the widespread use of violence and human-rights violations in the strife-torn state. Some 700,000 Muslim Rohingya fled from the state from August last year after a group of Rohingya militants attacked Myanmar military outposts, prompting a harsh response from the military and a clearance operation affecting the broader Rohingya population.

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 Myanmar’s Rohingya and called for the International Criminal Court to prosecute those officials responsible. However, the Myanmar Office of the President issued a statement blaming the militant group, the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army, for the violence in Rakhine. 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 so impressed by her roles back then. Other members of the commission are Kenzo Oshima, a former permanent representative of Japan to the UN; Myanmar’s former constitutional-tribunal chair, Mya Thein; and Aung Tun Thet, a former senior official of Unicef. The commission will be assisted by national and international legal and technical experts, according to the statement from the Myanmar Office of the President.