Whitewash? – The Edge Review

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Commission says allegations of massacre of Rohingya are unfounded

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YANGON – On the back foot since January after allegations that at least 40 Rohingya Muslims were murdered in Rakhine State, close to the Myanmar-Bangladesh border, the Naypyitaw Government last week received a vindication of sorts with the publication of a report by an investigation commission sent to the region by Myanmar President Thein Sein.

The United Nations and human rights groups had alleged revenge attacks on Rohingya, who were said to have lynched a Burmese policeman in revenge for earlier alleged disappearances, saw 40 Rohingya killed, with the severed heads of ten dead Rohingya, women and children included, found bobbing in a water tank in the border village of Du Chee Yar Tan.

But the Government-appointed commission concluded that “allegations that the police and the Rakhine community committed acts of atrocity after the death of Police Sergeant Aung Kyaw Thein are unfounded and were circulated by an entity seeking to discredit the present Government of Myanmar.”

Rohingya Muslims number around 800,000, perhaps 1 million, out of Myanmar’s estimated 50-60 million population, and have been oppressed for decades – denied basic rights after Myanmar, then known as Burma, enacted a 1982 law that left most Rohingya without citizenship. At the end of March 2014 Myanmar will hold a census for the first time since 1983, which should clear up the country’s murky demographics, but which could prompt more of the violence in Rakhine State that has seen almost 150,000 people, mostly Rohingya, left homeless since 2012.

In completing the census form, Rohingya will be allowed call themselves by their preferred ethnic category – a term rejected otherwise by the Myanmar Government – but will not be listed as a separate ethnic group. Nonetheless Rakhine Buddhists – backed by rabble-rouser monk U Wirathu, previously accused of fomenting anti-Muslim violence in Myanmar – have started protesting against the census.

The U.N. and medical aid organisation Doctors Without Borders were chastised in the investigation commission’s report, which accused the U.N of issuing “a highly biased report stating that this was the truth verified by “eye witnesses.”” Foreign embassies in Myanmar were previously warned against overstep in their criticisms of the Myanmar Government, while international and local news outlets covering the alleged killings suddenly found it difficult to acquire or renew visas for foreign journalists.

For their part, the Rakhine Buddhists seem to be digging their tribal trenches deeper, muttering that the Myanmar government does not do enough to stop “Bengali” incursions into Rakhine State – an area previously called Arakan and site of a independent kingdom prior to annexation by the Burmese in the late 18th Century – a conquest that came shortly before Burma itself was overwhelmed by the British – and pledging to resist any attempt to grant citizenship to Rohingya, something that the investigation commission said could done based on the 1982 law, likely on a case-by-case basis.

“The issue of the citizenship of the Bengalis, if not resolved, will only create further problems. The Rakhines see the Bengalis as foreigners without any citizenship status or rights,” the commission’s report read.

“Bengali” is the term used by Rakhine and Myanmar officials to refer to the Rohingya, implying that they all are immigrants from Bangladesh and therefore the group does not exist as an ethnic category in Myanmar.

In his final report at the end of a six year run as the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the human rights situation in Myanmar, Tomás Ojea Quintana, who had become something of a hate figure for Myanmar’s Buddhist supremacists, said that Myanmar’s reforms are generally heading in the right direction – but added that this positive assessment did not apply to Rakhine State.

“Addressing the impunity for human rights violations in Rakhine State together with the marginalisation and discrimination against the Rohingya community remain the two fundamental challenges that the Government seems unwilling to address,” Ojea Quintana wrote.

But rather than recognition, and an end to discrimination, the commission proposed that “all State and local authorities in Rakhine State to make efforts to understand and empathize with the Islamic culture of the Bengalis, including the Koran.”

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