Myanmar: Domestic commissions on Rohingya all failures

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Rohingya flee from Myanmar - File photograph

Myanmar’s domestic commissions on violence in Rakhine state have all failed to report credibly on atrocities against Rohingya or advance justice, Human Rights Watch said in a report on eight Myanmar government commissions since 2012.

The United Nations Human Rights Council, which was expected to adopt a resolution on the human rights situation in Myanmar as part of its 39th session, should create a body to gather evidence and prepare case files for future prosecutions.

Since violence broke out in Rakhine state in 2012, the Myanmar government has created eight commissions ostensibly to investigate abuses or to make recommendations for resolving the crisis. Not one has led to accountability for serious crimes against the Rohingya.

The composition and mandate of the latest commission, announced on 31 May 2018, make it clear that it will not be any more effective than its predecessors.

“The UN Human Rights Council should act now to preserve evidence and create a path to justice for victims of grave crimes in Myanmar,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The council should not wait for the country’s latest commission, which seems designed to dilute and deflect international calls for action.”

The Myanmar government’s descriptions of the latest commission signal that its primary purpose is to deflect international pressure. On 29 August, presidential spokesperson Zaw Htay stated that the independent commission of inquiry had been formed to “respond to false allegations made by the UN agencies and other international communities.”

The government has provided little information on the terms of reference for the commission, whose report is not due until August 2019.

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A Philippine diplomat, Rosario Manalo, the commission’s chair, has made clear that she has little interest in pursuing accountability, stating at the commission’s initial news conference, “I assure you there will be no blaming of anybody, no finger-pointing of anybody because we don’t achieve anything by doing that. … It is not a diplomatic approach to be finger-pointing. No saying, ‘You are accountable!’”

A Myanmar member of the commission, Col Aung Tun Thet, has repeatedly demonstrated his bias, saying in March that Myanmar has a “clear conscience” and that “there is no such thing in our country, in our society, as ethnic cleansing, and no genocide”. He was also a member of the 2016 national commission that rejected the findings of a UN report in its entirety.

A Thai diplomat, Kobsak Chitukul, who resigned from the government’s previous advisory board, said, “This just goes on and on. Next year it will be another commission, another board. It is all for show — there is nothing real. It is a hoax.”

On 18 September, a UN fact-finding mission on Myanmar released its more than 400-page report detailing crimes against humanity, war crimes, and possible genocide by Myanmar’s security forces against the Rohingya in Rakhine state, as well as serious abuses in Shan and Kachin states.

The mission recommended that either the Human Rights Council or the UN General Assembly should create as a matter of urgency an international, independent, impartial mechanism, similar to the one on Syria.

There is an urgent need to preserve evidence of serious crimes across Myanmar that could one day be used in prosecutions, Human Rights Watch said.

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“Myanmar’s latest commission was dead on arrival,” Adams said. “UN member countries shouldn’t fall for the trick of waiting for this new commission to do its work but act to ensure the victims of atrocities in Myanmar obtain justice.

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