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Myanmar Investigation Commission Prepares to Work on Second Report on Rakhine Crisis

Members of the Maungdaw Investigation Commission arrive at the airport in Sittwe, western Myanmar's Rakhine state, Feb. 1, 2017. (Photo: RFA)

March 21, 2017

Investigators from a Myanmar commission probing reports of recent violence against Rohingya Muslims in the northern part of restive Rakhine state will draft a “balanced” report based on fact-finding missions in Rakhine villages and refugee camps in neighboring Bangladesh, where tens of thousands of the minority group have fled from a crackdown, a member of the body said Tuesday.

Members of the Maungdaw Investigation Commission, appointed by the Rakhine state parliament last October, have wrapped up a fact-finding trip to the area and will soon meet with another group of members from the body that went to Bangladesh, said commission member Saw Thalay Saw.

“Most of them [residents of the affected townships in northern Rakhine] are getting back to their business, and they have been receiving help from the state government and international nongovernmental organizations,” she said. 

“We will hold a meeting about our visits and will work on reaching a decision about them,” she said. 

Maungdaw Commission members went to northern Rakhine state on March 17 and met with border guard police and local government officials, as well as with resettled families and individuals who fled during the October attacks, Myanmar News Agency reported

The commission members also discussed plans to ensure health care, shelter, and food for residents, the report said.

The commission’s two groups will discuss having a balanced point of view from both sides—Rohingya who accuse security forces of committing atrocities against them and ethnic Rakhine villagers whose accounts differ from those of the Rohingya, Saw Thalay Saw said.

Some Rohingya have accused Myanmar security forces of carrying out extrajudicial killings, torture, arson and rape during a four-month crackdown following a deadly attack on local border guard posts last October that was blamed on Rohingya militants.

About 1,000 people have died during the security operations, and more than 77,000 have fled mainly to Bangladesh where they have sought refuge in displaced persons camps.

The group from the Maungdaw Investigation Commission that went to Bangladesh to talk to Rohingya about the alleged rights abuses has completed its trip.

Ten investigators questioned about 35 Rohingya in relief camps in southern Bangladesh, who gave accounts of persecution and horrors they faced, according to a report by TRT World, the international news platform of the Turkish Radio and Television Corp.

Saw Thalay Saw, who is also a lawmaker from Shwegyin in Bago region, told RFA’s Myanmar Service last week that the group was going to Bangladesh to investigate what happened to those who fled Myanmar and to check both sides in order to get complete information.

It is not known when the commission will complete its second report and submit it to the Rakhine state government. The first report was submitted to Rakhine lawmakers on Dec. 27, 2016.

No proper strategy

In February, the commission completed another fact-finding mission in the affected areas to investigate United Nations’ allegations of human rights violations against Rohingya Muslims in northern Rakhine that said abuses committed by soldiers and police during the crackdown indicated “the very likely commission of crimes against humanity.”

At the time, Saw Thalay Saw told RFA that the commission members visited several villages in Maungdaw township, one of the areas under security lockdown, and investigated the differences between the U.N. report and the situation on the ground.

Rights groups have criticized the investigation commission and three others set up by President Htin Kyaw, the Myanmar army, and the police to look into reports of atrocities against the Rohingya during the security operations.

The Rohingya face routine discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar where they are denied citizenship and other basic rights.

“All problems in Rakhine from the past and present have occurred because each government has been unable to solve them with the proper strategy,” Rakhine state lawmaker Zaw Zaw Myint told RFA on Tuesday. 

He went on to say that the situation in Rakhine will never be resolved as long as the rights of the ethnic Buddhist Rakhine people are not taken into consideration. 

‘Crimes against humanity’

U.N. special rapporteur to Myanmar Yanghee Lee, who recently visited the affected areas in northern Rakhine state and Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh, told CNN on Monday that the violence could indicate crimes against humanity committed in the Southeast Asia nation.

When Lee visited refugee camps in Bangladesh, she spoke with more than 140 people about the reports of indiscriminate killings, arson, torture, and rape during the four-month-long-security operations in northern Rakhine state.

When asked by CNN if the crisis in Rakhine amounted to genocide, she said, “I would not use that word right now, but …from the allegations I heard and from where I saw it, it could amount to crimes against humanity.”

Though Lee has called for a U.N. inquiry commission to look into the recent violence against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, she said the “international community really did not have the appetite for it.” 

On March 16, the European Union submitted a draft resolution to the U.N. Human Rights Council calling for an immediate international probe of human rights violations by the military against Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state. 

Members of the Human Rights Council will vote on the resolution this week.

Reported by Waiyan Moe Myint and Min Theing Aung for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.

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