The grim situation of the Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar is grabbing headlines because it has snowballed into a major humanitarian crisis with a colossal number of refugees fleeing Rakhine and the violence in the country. Even before the latest crisis which is drawing increasing international attention began, there were warnings that the Rakhine state conflict is a danger to all of Myanmar.
A commission set up on the request of State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi also submitted recommendations to bring peace and prosperity to Rakhine state. While delving into the fears of the minority Rohingya Muslims population, the commission also looked at areas such as economic development, freedom of movement, humanitarian access among others.
In September 2016, the Kofi Annan Foundation and the Office of the State Counsellor established an advisory commission on Rakhine State, whose role was to examine the complex challenges facing Rakhine state.
Annan is a former United Nations chief and he released the final report titled 'Towards a peaceful fair and prosperous future for the people of Rakhine' on 24 August. Just two days later, deadly clashes erupted in Rakhine. At least 77 Rohingyas and 12 security personnel of Myanmar were killed after Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army attacked an army base. The tension has been escalating since with the military moving troops into remote villages, Al Jazeera reported.
In its 63-page report, the commission asked Myanmar to scrap restrictions on the movement of Rohingyas to avoid fuelling extremism and to review the 1982 citizenship law which does not acknowledge Rohingyas as one of the ethnic groups in Myanmar.
In the opening statement, Annan said that "the situation in Rakhine has become untenable" and fresh ideas are needed to urgently end the recurring cycle of violence, poverty and radicalisation.
While acknowledging that there are no "quick fix" solutions to the challenges in Myanmar, the report suggests that finding a path to move forward is an urgent task. "Rakhine represents a development crisis" as the commission suggests because it is marked by chronic poverty and lags behind the national average in almost every area.
Apart from a development crisis, Rakhine also represents a human rights crisis and a security crisis. The commission says that the movement restrictions on the Muslim population hurt the economy and despite other communities having suffered from violence and abuse, the Muslim community is particularly vulnerable to human rights violations.
"Muslims in Rakhine constitute the single biggest stateless community in the world. The community faces a number of restrictions which affect basic rights and many aspects of their daily lives."
Observations of the commission
The commission noticed "deep-seated fears" with the legacy of the violence of 2012 fresh in the minds of the people. In 2012, as BBC reported, waves of deadly violence engulfed parts of western Rakhine state. There were clashes between the Buddhists and the Muslims. The riots were sparked off by the rape of a Buddhist woman, the report said.
The commission suggests that a highly militarised response is unlikely to bring peace to Rakhine. It calls for a calibrated approach which combines "political, developmental, security and human rights responses."
The commission observed that the economy of Rakhine is marked by stagnation and is underdeveloped. The state’s poverty rate is 78 percent, almost double the national rate of 37.54 percent.
Restrictions on freedom of movement for the Muslim community have particularly detrimental effects on the level of economic activity in the state.
"The continued threat of instability and violence… has encouraged significant out-migration of both Rakhine and Muslims, resulting in labour shortage in various sectors" the report notes. Poverty and discrimination have encouraged tens of thousands of Muslims to migrate to other countries.
The report also points out that about 10 percent of the world’s stateless people live in Myanmar and the Rohingyas make up the single largest stateless community in the world.
In the report, the commission also calls for the international community to strive to fully understand the sensitivities that prevail in Rakhine and work with the Myanmar government.
Among the key recommendations of the commission is an end to all restrictions on movement imposed on Rohingyas and other communities in Rakhine.
According to government figures, approximately 4,000 Muslims have been recognised as citizens out of a population of around one million stateless Muslims in the state. The commission, therefore, suggests that the government should ensure that those who are verified as citizens enjoy all benefits and rights. The government should also establish a clear strategy for the citizenship verification.
The commission also urged Rakhine and Muslim communities to work constructively with the government to revitalize the citizenship verification process. There was also a suggestion to begin a review of the 1982 law and consider finding a provision for individuals who reside permanently in Myanmar for the possibility of acquiring citizenship.
The Annan commission also recommended that all communities should have access to education, health, livelihood opportunities and basic services. The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh should facilitate the voluntary return of Rohingya refugees through joint verification and when they return, Myanmar should help create a safe environment, the report suggests.
Full text of the report
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Updated Date: Sep 20, 2017 18:14:58 IST