A Myanmar government-appointed commission investigating recent violence that has occurred in northern Rakhine state said it has found no cases of genocide or religious persecution of Rohingya Muslims in the wake of deadly border guard attacks in October.
The commission’s interim report on the situation in Rakhine was issued on Tuesday, days after a video surfaced showing policemen beating members of the Muslim group. Human rights experts criticized the report as an effort to put a gloss on atrocities and blunt international criticism.
The 13-member commission was created by presidential order on Dec. 1 to probe the Oct. 9 border guard attacks in Maungdaw and Rathedaung townships as well as subsequent violence in Muslim villages in Maungdaw on Nov. 12 and 13, when armed men are said to have ambushed police and soldiers deployed to northern Rakhine to conduct security operations.
“The Bengali population residing in Maungdaw region, the increasing population of Mawlawi [Muslim religious scholars], mosques, and religious edifices are proof that there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region,” the report said, using a derogatory name for the stateless Rohingya who are and are discriminated against as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh in Buddhist-majority Myanmar.
The report went on to say that the commission conducted special investigations of allegations of rape, torture, arson and illegal arrests in Rohingya villages.
The commission said it interviewed local villagers and women about the rape allegations, but found insufficient evidence to take legal action.
Investigations into allegations of arson, torture, and illegal arrests are still under way, the report said.
“Responsible security personnel performing their duties in those villages submitted that they have been ready to take legal action against those who committed crimes if there was sufficient evidence,” it said.
Some of the roughly 50,000 Rohingya who fled northern Rakhine, mostly to Bangladesh, have accused security forces of extrajudicial killings, torture, rape, and arson, though the Myanmar government has denied the charges.
The commission said the violent armed attacks in Maungdaw were carried out by members of the Islamic terrorist organization Aqa Mul Mujahidin that operated in Maungdaw region in conjunction with the Rohingya Solidarity Organization (RSO), a local extremist group that was believed to be defunct.
Authorities have taken legal action against 485 suspects in 49 cases so far, of which 28 have gone to trial with three convictions, the report said. Authorities released 10 detainees found innocent of committing any crimes.
Havid Tuhar, a 45-year-old religious extremist who lived in Maungdaw’s Kyaukpyinseik village and uses the alias Arpu Hamad Zooluni, had participated in a six-month training program conducted by the Taliban, the report said.
In its one-paragraph conclusion to the interim report, the commission said: “The commission is carrying out its duties, being ever mindful that, as per the nature of these conflicts, illegal activities and fabricated rumors and news can appear occasionally.”
‘Pre-baked political conclusions’
New York-based Human Rights Watch called the report “methodologically flawed” and “a classic example of pre-baked political conclusions to assert the situation is not so bad, designed to push back against international community pressure.”
“Their astonishing finding that there was no religious persecution against the Rohingya because they saw mosques is methodologically flawed,” Phil Robertson, the group's deputy Asia director, told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu Agency.
Meanwhile, Myanmar rights activists reacted to a written appeal by a group of 23 Nobel laureates politicians, philanthropists, and activists to the United Nations Security Council on Dec. 28 to end “ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity” in Rakhine state.
Mie Mie, a prominent member of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society Group, suggested that outside forces not press Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto leader and herself a Nobel laureate, to resolve the issue
“Because Daw [honorific] Aung San Suu Kyi is also a Nobel laureate, she doesn’t need to be pressured to stop human rights violations or to be sent an open letter,” she said.
“This country’s problems are those of the citizens and the government,” she told RFA’s Myanmar Service. “We will work together to resolve them.”
Mie Mie pointed to the efforts of Aung San Suu Kyi’s special Rakhine Advisory Commission, headed by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan, to help resolve the religious and ethnic divisions in Rakhine state.
“We are going to work on our country’s issues with the help of international experts as we are doing right now,” Mie Mie said. “So please don’t pressure her or us.”
Wai Wai Nu, a Rohingya activist for peace and women’s rights and founder of the Women’s Peace Network Arakan, an organization that conducts training to promote relations between the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine people, agreed with the Nobel laureates that the government must work on resolving the Rohingya crisis.
“Although she [Aung San Suu Kyi] has been speaking out about the attacks in Maungdaw, the situation in Rakhine state hasn’t settled yet, so it’s still difficult to assume what will happen next.”
“Reporters still don’t have freedom to cover news in the area, so people can’t know the actual situation there,” she said, adding that it is likely that the Rohingya women who said they had been raped by security forces are telling the truth.
“According to my experience as a female activist, women usually keep silent even though they have been sexually abused because they can face social problems in the future,” she said.
Aung Myo Min, executive director of Equality Myanmar, a nongovernmental organization dedicated to human rights education and advocacy programs, said Aung San Suu Kyi, who also holds the titles of state counselor and foreign affairs minister, has been working on trying to resolve the Rakhine issues as much as she can.
He pointed out that in addition to forming the Rakhine Advisory Commission late last August in response to calls from the international community, she voluntarily met with foreign affairs ministers from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to discuss the Rohingya issue.
“The Nobel laureates have urged her to do something about the Rohingya, but what they don’t notice is that Daw Aung San Suu Kyi is not only a Nobel laureate right now, but also a government member,” he said.
“I believe she is frustrated because she has many things to do and also has limitations and restrictions placed upon her as to what she wants to do,” he said. “But the international community doesn’t see that point.”
President’s Office spokesman Zaw Htay said the government’s work to address and resolve the crisis in northern Rakhine must refute the many different reports and other information that have been disseminated—some of which the government has called fake news—to change the different assumptions that various countries have about the issue.
“We think that these Nobel laureates wrote the letter based on the information they got, so we are going to release truthful information,” he said. “We will punish those who violate laws and human rights.”
On Tuesday, Aung San Suu Kyi told officials attending a meeting on the stability and development of Rakhine state in the capital Naypyidaw that the situation in Maungdaw has grown worse since the Oct. 9 attacks because the government has placed an emphasis on the stability of the area and the rest of Rakhine state in the long run, according to state-run Myanmar News Agency.
She also warned that a new crisis could develop in the region once stability has been restored and that current problems should be resolved properly and accusations should be refuted with the truth, the agency’s report said.
Reported by Kyaw Zaw Win for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.