Implement Rakhine Commission Recommendations for Myanmar’s Rohingya

Refugees International (RI) welcomes the final report and recommendations of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State led by former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan. RI urges the Government of Myanmar to implement the recommendations with particular emphasis on the need for full and unfettered humanitarian access, improvement of conditions for displaced persons, a credible path to citizenship for the Rohingya, and the need to address Rakhine State as a human rights crisis.

Refugees International President Eric Schwartz said, “We welcome both the frank statements from the Commission about the degree of abuses as well as the very specific recommendations for reform. The completion of the Commission’s mandate is not an end but a beginning.  Implementation of recommendations by the Government of Myanmar with support and vigilance by the international community will be essential to ensuring progress toward the Commission’s vision of a peaceful, prosperous, and fair future for the people of Rakhine.”

“The Rohingya population has suffered ‘protracted statelessness and profound discrimination’ that has caused the Rohingya to become ‘marginalized and particularly vulnerable.’”

The Commission’s recommendations were aimed at ongoing and critical problems identified in the report. In particular, the Commission reiterated concerns that the Rohingya population (referred to in the report  as “the Muslim community in Rakhine”) has suffered “protracted statelessness and profound discrimination” that has caused the Rohingya community to become “marginalized and particularly vulnerable.” The Commission also identified causes of Rohingya statelessness, noting that several aspects of Myanmar’s citizenship law “are not in compliance with international standards and norms” and that the citizenship law “has not done justice to the credible claims of communities who have been living in the country for generations.” 

“It is essential that the UN Human Rights Council be granted access by the Government of Myanmar.”

RI also welcomes the Commission’s reiteration of the need for “independent and impartial investigation” to ensure “that perpetrators of serious human rights violations are held accountable.”  RI notes that such an investigation into specific human rights abuses was beyond the Commission’s mandate and that governmental investigations to date have fallen short. It is therefore essential that the UN Human Rights Council be granted access by the Government of Myanmar.

The release of the Commission’s report and recommendations come at an important time with rising tensions within Rakhine State and increased military presence heightening the risk of further abuses. Since the formation of Annan’s commission a year ago, conditions in Rakhine State have gotten decidedly more dangerous, with attacks by a militant group of Rohingya calling itself the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army and a blanket crackdown by Myanmar’s military marked by killing of civilians, burning of entire villages, and widespread reports of mass rape. In addition to some 120,000 Rohingya who have been displaced internally in squalid conditions for several year now, more than 80,000 Rohingya have sought refuge in Bangladesh in recent months, including hundreds fleeing renewed threats in recent days. As the Commission highlights, Rakhine represents a “human rights crisis” in which Rohingya are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations.

RI carried out a mission to Bangladesh, meeting with Rohingya who fled violence in Myanmar and who now live in several makeshift settlements along the Bangladesh-Myanmar border. RI released its finding from that mission in a July 2017 report, “Reluctant Refuge: Rohingya Safe but not Secure in Bangladesh.” The report and an accompanying policy brief on conditions in Myanmar were submitted to the Advisory Commission.

RI is encouraged to see that several of our recommendations on humanitarian access, safe returns of refugees, citizenship, and accountability are echoed in the Commission’s ultimate findings. We note, however, that emphasis must now shift to implementation of those recommendations.