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Govt report on Rakhine State ‘would be laughable if it weren’t so tragic’

The State Counsellor's Office says this photo shows security forces trying to control a house fire in Wabeik Village. Satellite footage analyzed by Human Rights Watch previously showed that the pattern of the fires in northern Rakhine State follows the movements of security forces, indicating arson perpetrated by soldiers. Photo: State Counsellor’s Office Information Committee

January 5, 2017

Human rights groups have slammed an interim report released by the Maungtaw Region Investigation Commission this week that denies claims of genocide, religious persecution and rape in northern Rakhine State and puts the blame for the violence there almost exclusively on Rohingya insurgents.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) responded to the report, calling it “methodologically flawed” and “a classic example of pre-baked political conclusions”.

The commission drew criticism as soon as it was formed by the office of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi. The commission is chaired by Myanmar Vice President Myint Swe – a former military general believed to have orchestrated the brutal crackdown on peaceful protesters in the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

HRW said the Myanmar government is using the report to “assert the situation is not so bad, designed to push back against international community pressure”.

“Their astonishing finding that there was no religious persecution against the Rohingya because they saw mosques is methodologically flawed,” HRW’s deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, told Anadolu Agency.

“This commission is turning out to be precisely the Myanmar government whitewash machine that we feared it would be when we first saw the list of members,” he said.

Matthew Smith, the CEO of Fortify Rights, said the report “would be laughable if it weren't so tragic, and if the current situation weren't so grim”.

“Among its many failings, the report essentially denies that the authorities restricted access to key areas, claiming journalists and aid groups were free to operate. The idea that journalists and aid groups aren't restricted from areas of Maungdaw Township is patently untrue. Access is still tightly restricted,” Smith said in a statement today.

The report claims: “No cases of malnutrition were found in the area, due to the area’s favourable fishing and farming conditions.”

Smith responded: “Malnutrition is endemic in Rohingya areas, on par with some of worst situations globally. It's embarrassing that the government's test for malnutrition consisted of observing the existence of rice paddies. Empirical data measuring malnutrition is available. And they seemed to have missed that the army burned rice stores in several villages. We documented this.”

“This report demonstrates a deeply inadequate understanding of the crime of genocide. It's time the Myanmar authorities familiarized themselves with international law,” he said.

"The army has committed atrocity crimes, and this commission is attempting a whitewash. Ministries led by Suu Kyi have charted the path of denial, waging a shameful propaganda campaign."

Smith added: “Since 2012 we've seen a circus of government-appointed commissions, all of which attempted to cover up abuses by the state. No previous commission, including this one, helped improve the situation in Rakhine State. Now is the time for a UN-mandated independent, international investigation. It's fair to say domestic remedies have been exhausted.”

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