Kofi Annan. Source: Wikimedia
Former UN secretary general Kofi Annan is due to lead an effort to tackle ethnic tensions in Myanmar’s troubled Rakhine State where numerous Rohingya Muslims have been forced from their homes in violent pogroms.
Annan is one of three foreigners on a nine-member commission set up by State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar’s de facto prime minister, who has faced international criticism for not taking a stronger stand in defence of the Rohingya.
“Today’s announcement is a sign that Myanmar’s authorities are taking the situation in Rakhine State seriously. But it will only have been a worthwhile exercise if it paves the way for the realisation of human rights for all people in the state,” said Rafendi Djamin, Amnesty International’s regional director.
The group, which has a year to report, comes after thousands have been stranded in the region’s waters in recent years. It is unusual for international advisers to be invited openly to advise on an issue that is explosive domestically while Buddhist nationalists enflame anti-Muslim feelings.
The establishment of the commission will deflect criticism of Suu Kyi during her visit to the US and UN General Assembly next month.
Win Htein, a central executive member of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said of Annan: “We need advice, whether he’s a foreigner or not. He is influential in international politics, and we need his support to steer a real peace in this country.”
Suu Kyi is busy planning for the highly anticipated August 31 Panglong peace conference. Ban Ki-moon, the UN secretary general, was planning to attend and Annan was invited, Win Htein said.
The Kofi Annan Foundation said the commission would “consider humanitarian and developmental issues, access to basic services, the assurance of basic rights, and the security of the people of Rakhine”. Annan himself said he was “pleased to support the national efforts to promote peace, reconciliation and development in Rakhine”.
Other members of the Rakhine commission include Ghassan Salamé, an ex-UN adviser, and Laetitia van den Assum, a diplomat from the Netherlands, and representatives of the Myanmar Red Cross Society and human rights activists.
Bowing to the sensitive nature of the subject, the official announcement (like Suu Kyi herself) failed to use the term “Rohingya”. Nationalists attack anyone, including the US embassy, who uses the word as they claim it implies the Rohingyas are one of Myanmar’s ethnic groups rather than migrants from across the border in Bangladesh. Buddhist groups and Myanmar’s media opt for the controversial term “Bengali” instead.
Rohingya are denied citizenship, voting and work rights or the right to free movement in Myanmar.