Not the Time for Aung San Suu Kyi to Blink in Face of Rohingya Crisis

Not the Time for Aung San Suu Kyi to Blink in Face of Rohingya Crisis
Photo Credit:AP/ 達志影像

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Myanmar needs to throw its full weight behind the commission’s recommendations, and especially not blink in dealing with the harder stuff, such as ensuring freedom of movement for all communities, prosecuting officials who use their positions to abuse rights or extort people, and ensuring humanitarian access and facing down Rakhine extremists who try to obstruct those operations and intimidate UN staffm writes Phil Robertson.

Former United Nations chief Kofi Annan yesterday handed to the Myanmar government a report into the troubled Rakhine state.

State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi and the national government asked for a frank appraisal of the situation and Kofi Annan and his fellow commissioners certainly delivered.

The Commission has developed an impressive set of common-sense, focused recommendations that if fully implemented could bring the sort of progress that has been missing in Rakhine State for decades. The ball is now in Suu Kyi’s court, and we’ll see if she can meet the high expectations created when she first asked Kofi Annan to lead this effort.

Suu Kyi should step up and led efforts to ensure the timely and effective implementation of these recommendations, both in the short and long-term, while using her political legitimacy to face down extremists on all sides and ensure going forward that government security forces respect rights and hold their personnel accountable for any violations.

She has the moral authority and political support to make it happen, and everything to gain in this endeavor. She should seize this opportunity to lead Rakhine state out of this morass using these recommendations and operating with the blessings of the UN and governments around the world.

The Commission has really put its finger on a key issue when it focuses on formal and informal restrictions on freedom of movement and the cascading, highly damaging impacts those have on human rights, ability to earn a living, and access to basic services. Unless the Myanmar government can break the lock that Rakhine extremists and corrupt officials have on whether people can move for economic and social purposes, many of the other reforms will likely fail.

The Myanmar government should recognize that development and accountability for rights abuses are not mutually exclusive. The Rakhine Commission touches on the lack of accountability for the rights violations that took place during the so-called ‘clearance operations’ and states that an independent and impartial investigation is critical.

Such an investigation, carried out by international professionals, is knocking on Myanmar’s door. Aung San Suu Kyi and her government should let the fact-finding mission into the country, and allow them to investigate in line with their mandate.

The Commission’s straightforward approach to the thorny issues of statelessness, ethnicity and vulnerability to rights abuses is really about making the best of a very bad situation. The Myanmar government has promised to faithfully implement the recommendations of the Commission and this will be the key test of that commitment. The Myanmar government must face down Rakhine extremists and their supporters in so-called ‘race and religion’ movements throughout the country and firmly commit to reform of the 1982 Citizenship Act. The Commission has done Myanmar an important service by setting out the case for the urgency of that reform, and in reality, that commitment is probably the only thing that will convince Rohingya to fully participate in the long-stalled nationality verification process.

Myanmar needs to throw its full weight behind the Commission’s recommendations, and especially not blink in dealing with the harder stuff, such as ensuring freedom of movement for all communities, prosecuting officials who use their positions to abuse rights or extort people, and ensuring humanitarian access and facing down Rakhine extremists who try to obstruct those operations and intimidate UN staff. And so while it’s not in the report, or covered by the mandate of the Rakhine Commission, Myanmar has systematically pursue historical accountability for rights abuses committed by all sides in both the 2012 violence and the 2016-17 "clearance operations." Such actions would net many of the extremists determined to use violence, since it’s no exaggeration to say that the same people who were whipping up violence in June and October 2012 are still at it today.

A fundamental concern remains, which is how will the Myanmar government deal with the Rakhine Commission’s recommendations versus those of the Myanmar committee led by first Vice-President Myint Swe? That national Myanmar commission arrived in a very different place with different approaches than the Rakhine Commission, and there were areas of overlapping mandates that further complicate the situation. The government should be decisive and bold in going forward with the Rakhine Commission recommendations that reflect the much higher levels of cohesiveness, vision and confidence than what Myint Swe and his commission produced.


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