The Myanmarese government said on Monday that it had established a new “independent” commission to investigate the “allegations” of human rights abuses in Rakhine State — where the Rohingya had been primarily located — despite the mountain of evidence indicating “systematic ethnic cleansing” against the minority Muslims.
Rakhine first came under a military crackdown in late 2016, when the government laid siege to the state and blocked media access. Nevertheless, reports slowly began to emerge of horrific violence committed against the Muslim community. Accounts of killings, beheadings, arson attacks, and rapes by Myanmarese government soldiers and Buddhist mobs leaked out as many Rohingya Muslims began to flee in August last year.
Tens of thousands of the Muslims are now living in crowded, squalid camps in neighboring Bangladesh, where international medics have verified that wounds on the bodies of the Muslim survivors of the violence correspond with their accounts of brutal violence, including, in some cases, rape with sharp objects.
The Myanmarese government and military have denied almost all allegations of violence.
The government has previously established other inquiries — only to conclude that no violations had taken place.
The new body includes, among others, senior adviser to Myanmar’s president, Aung Tun Thet; the former chair of Myanmar’s constitutional tribunal U Mya Thein; former Philippine deputy foreign minister Rosario Manalo; and Japan’s former UN representative Kenzo Oshima.
The government did not provide further information, including about the commission’s powers or the time frame it has been given to complete a potential report.
Sean Bain, a legal adviser to the International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), has criticized the appointments.
Such commissions, he wrote on Twitter, “tend to be ad hoc, rarely if ever lead to prosecution & fail to provide redress. Impunity results, undermining justice & emboldening perpetrators.”
Myanmar-based analyst David Mathieson also condemned the move, calling it a “political gimmick.”
“Given the weight of evidence collected by Amnesty International, the UN and the media, this CoI (Commission of Inquiry) is tantamount to a rude gesture, not a genuine inquiry,” he said, adding that the move could only “collide with a military covering up ethnic cleansing.”
Human Rights Watch Myanmar researcher Rich Weir said the country would use the new body as “distractions and shields from criticism and pressure,” as it did with the previous such inquiries.
A coordinator for the London-based Free Rohingya Coalition, Nay San Lwin, said Myanmar had been forming inquiry, investigation, and advisory commissions since 2012, none of which “found any solution for the Rohingya, but mostly advocated for the government and military.”
He said the former Advisory Commission on Rakhine, led by former UN secretary general Kofi Annan, “only advised.”
The government did not even implement the recommendations made by that commission, he said.
Other state-run commissions also claimed the military had not committed any crimes against the Rohingya people, Lwin said.
One of the members of the new commission, Aung Tun Thet, has already denied ethnic cleansing charges. This is while the United Nations has effectively confirmed such cleansing has occurred. The UN has said “acts of genocide” have also most likely been perpetrated against the Rohingya people.
The Rohingya, who have lived in Myanmar for generations, are denied citizenship there and are branded illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which likewise denies them citizenship but has been sheltering them on humanitarian grounds.