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Myanmar: Civil Society Calls for International Investigation in Rakhine State

YANGON —More than 40 Myanmar-based civil society organizations today called for a “truly independent” international investigation into the situation in Rakhine State, where state-sponsored attacks against Rohingya Muslim civilians have escalated in recent months. Muslim and Buddhist communities in Rakhine State have faced human rights violations with impunity for decades.

Today’s statement recommends the establishment of a “commission of inquiry to fully assess the totality of the situation in Rakhine State and provide clear recommendations for the current government to effectively address and prevent further problems.”

“This initiative is important for the entire country,” said Matthew Smith, chief executive officer at Fortify Rights. “It’s time for the government to get on board and support the establishment of an impartial and independent inquiry.”

The statement comes a day before Foreign Ministers of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation (OIC)—an intergovernmental body of 57 member states—will meet in Kuala Lumpur to discuss the situation of Rohingya in Rakhine State.

The diverse signatories to the statement include women-led organizations, human rights groups, academic institutions, and development organizations working throughout the country and with various ethnic communities.

Today’s statement follows an open letter to the United Nations Security Council on December 28 by a group of Nobel Laureates and global leaders—including Kerry Kennedy, President of Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights and member of the international advisory board of Fortify Rights—calling for “an independent, international inquiry to establish the truth about the current situation” in Rakhine State. A Burmese language version of the statement was circulated widely in Myanmar.

The call for an international commission of inquiry also gained momentum in the country following the recent publication of the preliminary findings of an investigation led by Vice President Myint Swe—a former military general and known “hardliner”—into the situation in northern Rakhine State. The government established the commission after militants attacked three police outposts, killing nine and prompting the Myanmar military to initiate an indiscriminate “clearance operation.”

Tens of thousands of civilians have since fled attacks by the Myanmar military in Maungdaw Township. In an ongoing investigation, Fortify Rights documented how the Myanmar military razed villages, killed unarmed civilians, and raped Rohingya women, among other abuses in several villages in Maungdaw Township.

On January 3, state-run media published the interim findings of the government-appointed, 13-member commission led by Myint Swe, which reported no human rights violations and denied allegations of the crime of genocide. The commission cited the presence of “the Bengali population” as well as religious leaders and mosques as “proof that there were no cases of genocide and religious persecution in the region.”

Myint Swe’s commission also denied allegations of malnutrition among the local Rohingya population, apparently based on visual observations of “the area’s favorable fishing and farming conditions.” The commission failed to note available empirical data and internal U.N. reports that suggest malnutrition rates in Maungdaw Township have long been at crisis level and are worsening.

Since October, Myanmar authorities have blocked access to affected areas in Maungdaw Township, denying life-saving humanitarian aid to tens of thousands of Rohingya while also restricting access for human rights monitors and journalists. Despite Myanmar authorities’ repeated promises to diplomats and others to open humanitarian access to the area, aid operations remain extremely limited.

More than 65,000 Rohingya men, women, and children have fled to Bangladesh since October, joining a longstanding Rohingya refugee population of an estimated half a million people.

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