Kofi Annan urges economic, social reform in Rakhine

Mr. Kofi Annan, the chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State. Photo: GNLM/Phoe Khwar

Myanmar should act urgently and with sustained action on a number of fronts to prevent violence, maintain peace, foster reconciliation and offer a sense of hope to the Muslim community in Rakhine, according to recommendations by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine led by UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan yesterday.
The final report of the Advisory Commission released yesterday puts forward recommendations to surmount the political, socio-economic and humanitarian challenges that currently face Rakhine State.
“Unless concerted action led by the government and aided by all sectors of the government and society is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalisation, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine State”, said Annan at a news conference
yesterday.
The commission also called on the government to ensure freedom of movement for all people irrespective of religion, ethnicity, or citizenship status, and to that end reiterated its earlier call for a mapping exercise to identify all existing restrictions on freedom of movement.
The report also provides recommendations on border security and bilateral cooperation with Bangladesh, including the pressing challenges of drug trafficking.
“Responsibility for the implementation of our recommendations now lies with Myanmar’s leaders, institutions and people: the Union and Rakhine State governments; the national and state parliaments; religious and community leaders; and above all, the people of Rakhine,” said Annan at the press conference.
He also urged the international community to continue to play a strong, generous and impartial role in support of the national efforts needed to  help Rakhine move forward.
The final report also recommended that complaints regarding the verification process be addressed swiftly by a government authority independent of the institutions responsible for the process.
“Although the Muslim community has legitimate concerns about the verification process, I would urge them to work with the government to address those concerns,” the commission said yesterday.
The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State, formed last year by State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, said the response to the situation in Rakhine should combine “political, developmental, security and human rights approaches that address the root causes of violence and reduce inter-communal tensions”, according to the commission’s report released yesterday.
The final report also stated that both Rakhines and Muslims face movement restrictions, although  Muslims – and in particular IDPs – are particularly affected.
Annan has visited Myanmar three times since his appointment, including two trips to Rakhine State. Yesterday, he presented his findings to Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and Commander -in- Chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing and took part in a news conference later in the day.
In his remarks at yesterday’s press conference, Annan admitted that some of the commission’s recommendations would be deemed controversial.
“We are well aware that our recommendations on citizenship and freedom of movement touch on profound concerns of the Rakhine population. Nevertheless, the commission has chosen to squarely face these sensitive issues because we believe that if they are left to fester, the future of Rakhine State — and Myanmar as a whole — will be irretrievably jeopardised”, Annan said at yesterday’s news conference.
“This is a crucial step for Rakhines and Muslims alike. Only in this way can they break out of the hostility that leads to the violence and despair that has blighted their lives for so long.”
Myanmar should respond to the problems in Rakhine State in a “calibrated” way without excessive force, the commission said in their report, adding that radicalisation was a danger if problems were not addressed.
The commission made a host of other recommendations, ranging from a faster, more transparent citizenship verification process, to lifting restrictions on movement and equal access to healthcare for all residents.
Militants attacked three border guard outposts on 9 October in northern Rakhine, resulting in the deaths of nine policemen and sparking months of security clearance operations by military troops and a surge of tens of thousands of Muslims fleeing across the border to Bangladesh.
The treatment of approximately 1.1 million members of Rakhine State’s Muslim community elicited allegations of human rights abuses from the international community.
Annan’s commission – appointed to come up with long-term solutions for the violence-riven, ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine state – said perpetrators of rights abuses should be held accountable.
But in order to bring about stability to the troubled area, brute force is not the answer, the commission said.
“While Myanmar has every right to defend its own territory, a highly militarised response is unlikely to bring peace to the area,” the nine-member commission said in its final report.
Instead, a nuanced, comprehensive response was urgently needed to “ensure that violence does not escalate and inter-communal tensions are kept under control”, it said.
The commission warned that if human rights were not respected and “the population remain politically and economically marginalised, northern Rakhine State may provide fertile ground for radicalisation, as local communities may become increasingly vulnerable to recruitment by extremists”.—GNLM and Reuters

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