Don’t blame the NLD for problems in Rakhine State

The National League for Democracy government has been working to resolve the situation in Rakhine State since soon after taking office and criticism of its efforts by the international community is unfair.

By SITHU AUNG MYINT | FRONTIER

IN A widely reported decision, the United Nations Human Rights Council agreed at its session in Geneva on March 24 to send an international fact-finding mission to Myanmar to investigate reports of widespread human rights abuses in northern Rakhine State. A resolution sponsored by the European Union and approved by consensus called for “ensuring full accountability for perpetrators and justice for victims”. 

The Myanmar delegation said the resolution was “not acceptable”. The decision poses a huge problem for the National League for Democracy government and will not help efforts to find a peaceful solution to the situation in Rakhine.

The problem of the people in Rakhine who call themselves Rohingya is an old one and exists because they are not recognised as citizens and have been victims of human rights violations. There have long been tensions between the Muslim and Buddhist communities in Rakhine, and since they erupted into violence in 2012 that left scores dead, villages torched and more than 100,000 people confined to camps the situation has deteriorated sharply.

After the violence in 2012, the U Thein Sein government settled Muslims, the majority of the displaced, in IDP camps near Muslim villages, instead of encouraging the two communities to try to live peacefully together. Muslims, whether in IDP camps or their own homes, are subject to restrictions on their movement. Since the 2012 violence nearly all of the Muslims in the state capital, Sittwe, have been confined to the city’s Aung Mingalar quarter. 

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When the Hungarian-born American investor and philanthropist, Mr George Soros, visited Aung Mingalar in January 2015, he said it reminded him of the Jewish ghettoes created by the Nazis in Eastern Europe during World War II.

After it took office just over a year ago the NLD government moved quickly to address the complex situation in Rakhine.

Two months after the change of power, President U Htin Kyaw appointed State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to head the 27-member Central Committee for Implementing Peace and Development in Rakhine. Under Aung San Suu Kyi’s leadership, the committee has worked to end human rights violations, foster harmony between the Buddhist and Muslim communities, promote economic development and raise living standards in Rakhine, one of the country’s poorest regions.

In August, the government appointed the Advisory Commission on Rakhine, headed by former UN secretary-general Mr Kofi Annan and tasked with proposing sustainable solutions to the state’s “complicated issues”.

On October 9, just over six months after the NLD took office, Muslim militants attacked border guard police posts in northern Rakhine, killing nine officers and seizing arms and ammunition. Under such circumstances, it is not unusual for a government to take action against assailants and try to recover looted weapons.

However, the security operation launched after the attacks by the Tatmadaw led to widespread accusations of extrajudicial killings, rape and the torching of houses. The government sent a fact-finding commission headed by Vice President U Myint Swe to Rakhine and the Tatmadaw and Ministry of Home Affairs have conducted separate investigations.

Border guard police chief Police Major-General Thura San Lwin has said 18 cases have been filed against members of the Myanmar Police Force and the Tatmadaw on charges arising from the operation, including murder, rape and arson.

It cannot be denied that the human rights of the Muslim community in Rakhine have been violated, but it is also true that militants have been threatening and killing villagers.

Suspected militants have been blamed for killing 23 villagers since the October 9 attacks, including two prominent members of the Islamic community found dead after speaking to the media. In one incident, 15 villagers were kidnapped by suspected militants but only five were released and the rest are feared dead.

The Rohingya are called “Bengalis” by the Tatmadaw, Rakhine Buddhists and many citizens because they believe them to be illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

In his Tatmadaw Day speech on March 27, Commander-in-Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing defended the security operation in Rakhine and denied the existence of the Rohingya, saying the “Bengalis” in Rakhine were not Myanmar citizens.

The Tatmadaw, he said, had a duty to protect Myanmar’s sovereignty when the country was harmed by political, religious and racial problems.

Aung San Suu Kyi is doing her best to resolve a very difficult situation in Rakhine. Instead of blaming the State Counsellor for the situation involving Muslims in the state, the international community should be providing Aung San Suu Kyi and her government with the support it needs to implement the interim and final recommendations of the Annan commission.

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