Annan calls Suu Kyi to act

Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan has reported that Myanmar must end restrictions on movement and citizenship for its Rohingya minority if it wants to avoid fostering extremism and bring peace to Rakhine State.

Activists have praised the nine-member commission’s report as a landmark for the persecuted Muslim minority because the notionally democratic government initially said it would implement its findings.

The mistreatment of the estimated 1.1 million Rohingya has bought international condemnation, while the Buddhist majority is largely hostile to the Muslim community, often referring to them as “Bengalis”, implying they are illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The report’s demanded the lifting of the economic burden on the Muslim population because of their lack of documentation as citizens with full rights, and limits imposed on their freedom of movement. It called for changes to the citizenship verification process for the stateless community and for the Rohingya to take part in the government process.

Annan said State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi must risk angering the Buddhist majority over the issue and rights groups praised the findings.

“The commission has developed an impressive set of common-sense, focused recommendations that if fully implemented could bring the sort of progress that has been missing in Rakhine State for decades,” said Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch. “The ball is now in Suu Kyi’s court, and we’ll see if she can meet the high expectations created when she first asked Kofi Annan to lead this effort.”

Annan was appointed by Suu Kyi to head a year-long commission to study divisions between the Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists in the border state. The former UN chief has visited the impoverished state twice for the report.

“Unless current challenges are addressed promptly, further radicalisation within both communities is a real risk,” the report said, describing the Rohingya as “the single biggest stateless community in the world”. Six members of the commission are citizens of Myanmar.

“If the legitimate grievances of local populations are ignored, they will become more vulnerable to recruitment by extremists.”

On October 9, the crisis deepened significantly when alleged Rohingya militants were accused of killing nine border police.

The military response sparked well-documented allegations of arson, killings and rape by troops while around 87,000 Muslimsfled across the border into Bangladesh.

Earlier this month, the security forces announced “clearance operations” in Rathedaung Township in an attempt to root out supposed Islamist extremist groups. None of the military’s claims of terror groups can be independently verified as aid groups or journalists are not allowed to visit.

“While Myanmar has every right to defend its own territory, a highly militarised response is unlikely to bring peace to the area,” Annan’s straight-talking report said.

Straight-talking Kofi Annan. Picture credit: Wikimedia