YANGON, MYANMAR – A new commission set up by Myanmar to look into human rights abuses in Rakhine state has been criticized by observers Tuesday as a “political gimmick,” as the country tries to stave off further censure over its treatment of its Rohingya Muslims.
The government announced Monday evening that an “independent” commission of inquiry had been established but gave no details about its remit, powers or the time frame given to complete its report.
The military tore through Rohingya villages in a campaign that started last August following a spate of insurgent attacks, forcing some 700,000 to flee over the border en masse to Bangladesh.
The Rohingya have recounted testimony of widespread murder, rape, torture and arson at the hands of the army and ethnic Rakhine Buddhist mobs, in violence the U.N. has branded as ethnic cleansing.
In the decades before that the Rohingya systematically had their rights stripped away by a country that widely regards them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Yangon-based analyst David Mathieson called the new commission a “political gimmick.”
“Given the weight of evidence collected by Amnesty International, the U.N. and the media, this CoI (Commission of Inquiry) is tantamount to a rude gesture, not a genuine inquiry,” he said, adding that it can only “collide with a military covering up ethnic cleansing.”
Members of the new commission include two foreign and two Myanmar nationals: former Philippine deputy foreign minister Rosario Manalo, Japan’s former U.N. representative Kenzo Oshima, the former chair of Myanmar’s constitutional tribunal U Mya Thein and Aung Tun Thet, who heads up the Myanmar government body dedicated to the Rohingya crisis.
In an interview with Bangladeshi newspaper The Daily Star in April, Aung Tun Thet denied that any ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya had occurred in Rakhine.
International Commission of Jurists (ICJ) legal adviser Sean Bain pointed out that previous inquiries on Rakhine had produced no tangible result.
They “tend to be ad hoc, rarely if ever lead to prosecution & fail to provide redress,” he tweeted. “Impunity results, undermining justice & emboldening perpetrators.”
Two prominent members of previous commissions — former Thai ambassador Kobsak Chutikul and U.S. diplomat Bill Richardson — publicly quit their posts after expressing frustration with the government.
Human Rights Watch Myanmar researcher Rich Weir said the new body would be used like previous commissions “as distractions and shields from criticism and pressure.”
Myanmar political analyst Soe Myint Aung said the creation of the new commission will not play well inside the country either.
“Some think she is not tough enough. Others think she is conceding too much by internationalizing a domestic problem,” he said of civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been globally lambasted over the crisis but remains a heroine domestically.
The military have denied nearly all allegations of human rights abuses, justifying their “clearance operations” as a way of flushing out Rohingya militants who killed around a dozen border guard police last August.
Doctors Without Borders (MSF) estimates that at least 6,700 Rohingya were killed in the first month of the army’s campaign alone.