State crime experts call for assurances on Rakhine State advisory commission

 Greg Constantine
Greg Constantine

The International State Crime Initiative (ISCI) at Queen Mary University of London (QMUL) has welcomed the Myanmar government’s intention to establish an advisory commission on Rakhine State, but has called for assurances regarding the commission’s mandate and level of access to Rohingya communities.

ISCI published a major report on genocidal practice in Myanmar in 2015 entitled: Countdown to Annihilation: Genocide in Myanmar. The results of ISCI’s twelve month study, which included four months of fieldwork carried out between October 2014 and March 2015, found that the Myanmar state’s historic and ongoing persecution of the Rohingya constitutes genocidal practice

Their research also revealed genuinely held grievances on the part of the Rakhine, including accusations against the state of forced labour; land confiscation; arbitrary detention; and natural resource exploitation. According to Professor Penny Green, Director of ISCI: ‘Having experienced decades of discrimination and severe poverty themselves, the Rakhine feel marginalized and fearful of losing their cultural identity.’

The overall objective of the commission, chaired by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan, ‘is to provide recommendations on the complex challenges facing Rakhine’. The commission will recommend ’lasting solutions to complex and delicate issues’ in a report due to be released in August 2017. ISCI encourages the commission to consider the historic and ongoing persecution of the Rohingya in light of previous genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, and Germany. The group’s research, which conceptualises genocide as a process rather than the endpoint of mass killing, demonstrates grave parallels between the experiences of the Rohingya and previous genocides.

ISCI has called for reassurance and additional information in several critical areas:

  • The Myanmar government must release additional details surrounding the precise mandate of the commission, beyond generalities about humanitarian, developmental, security, and peace.
  • Commission members must be granted full and unfettered access to all parts of Rakhine state, including communities in and around Maungdaw and Buthidaung.
  • All announcements surrounding the formation of the commission have avoided using the word Rohingya. ISCI urges the Myanmar government to change its stance surrounding the term. Aung San Suu Kyi reiterated the previous government’s position regarding terminology in May and June of this year when she requested that the US Embassy and the UN avoid using the term ‘Rohingya’. The Ministry of Information announced that the Rohingya and the Rakhine are to be described as ’people who believe in Islam in Rakhine state? and ’people who believe in Buddhism in Rakhine State’ respectively. Official banning of the term Rohingya represents a continuation of historic policies which have fostered dehumanisation of the Rohingya and reinforces dangerous nationalist rhetoric which claims the Rohingya are not welcome in Myanmar.
  • Though the commission includes Rakhine, Burmese, and Muslim members as well as international representatives, it appears that Muslim members are not Rohingya. The inclusion of individuals belonging to Myanmar’s other ethnic minorities, including the Rohingya, must be an essential part of the process.

Professor Green said: ’The complex and deeply polarised politics of Rakhine state require genuine will on the part of the Myanmar government to foster tolerance for individuals of all religions and ethnicities. ISCI urges all stakeholders in Rakhine state to approach the commission’s work with the view to establishing concrete and sincere solutions. ISCI acknowledges the positive steps Aung San Suu Kyi’s government has taken in response to hard line nationalist Buddhist groups such as Ma Ba Tha. The Myanmar government must continue to take a firm stance against the spread of hate speech and Islamophobia, and end impunity for violence driven by religious and ethnic motives.’