Annan to tackle human rights abuses in Rakhine

Suu Kyi picks ex-UN chief to lead panel to resolve conflict between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims

The panel to be headed by Mr Annan will look at conflict prevention, supporting humanitarian assistance and reconciliation.
The panel to be headed by Mr Annan will look at conflict prevention, supporting humanitarian assistance and reconciliation.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

YANGON • Myanmar's de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi picked former United Nations chief Kofi Annan to lead a commission to stop human rights abuses in Rakhine state, where violence between Buddhists and minority Rohingya Muslims has cast a pall over democratic reforms.

More than 100 people were killed in the north-western state in 2012, and some 125,000 Rohingya Muslims, who are stateless, took refuge in camps where their movements are severely restricted.

Thousands have fled persecution and poverty by boat to neighbouring South and South-east Asian countries.

"The Myanmar government wants to find a sustainable solution on the complicated issues in Rakhine State, that's why it has formed an advisory commission," the government said in a statement released by Ms Suu Kyi's office.

Ms Suu Kyi runs Myanmar as state counsellor and foreign affairs minister. The veteran democracy activist has come under fire from international rights groups for failing to address the plight of the Rohingya publicly as she seeks to avoid stoking further unrest over the sensitive issue.

The statement said the Rakhine commission would include nine independent members, comprising six Myanmar citizens and three foreigners. The commission, which also includes members of the Muslim and ethnic Rakhine communities, would focus on conflict prevention, supporting humanitarian assistance, national reconciliation, human rights and development in Rakhine, the statement added.

A report would be published within a year of its formation.

The statement, however, did not mention the Rohingya by name.

Hardline Buddhists reject the term and insist the nearly one million-strong group are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

During a visit last month , UN envoy Yanghee Lee urged Ms Suu Kyi's government to make ending "institutionalised discrimination" against Muslims in Rakhine an urgent priority.

A spokesman for the Kofi Annan Foundation said Mr Annan would travel to Myanmar early next month.

Mr Annan was Mr Ban Ki Moon's predecessor as UN secretary-general, serving in the post from 1997 to 2006. He shared the Nobel Peace Prize with the UN in 2001.

Myanmar also announced this week that Mr Ban would attend a peace conference at the end of the month. The five-day talks, an effort to end a host of long-running ethnic minority insurgencies, will begin on Aug 31.

Ms Suu Kyi will go to the United States next month, when she is expected to address the UN General Assembly.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 25, 2016, with the headline 'Annan to tackle human rights abuses in Rakhine'. Subscribe