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Kofi Annan’s the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State Report

 Category: Reports  Publisher: Kofi Annan  Published: 1 August 2017  Tags: Kofi AnnanRakhineRohingya |  Download


Rakhine State has a long and proud history. This report, however, looks primarily to the future and asks how Rakhine State can make the best use of its enormous but underutilised potential. Rakhine enjoys fertile soils, an abundance of natural resources and is strategically located for regional trade. Yet, today, Rakhine State suffers from a pernicious mix of underdevelopment, inter-communal confl ict, and lingering grievances towards the central government. The Rakhine Advisory Commission recognizes the complexity of the problems in the state, and cautions that there are no “quick fi x” solutions to these challenges. Yet, fi nding a path to move forward is an urgent task. The status quo is not tenable.

On one level, Rakhine represents a development crisis. The state is marked by chronic poverty from which all communities suffer, and lags behind the national average in virtually every area. Protracted confl ict, insecure land tenure and lack of livelihood opportunities have resulted in signifi cant migration out of the state, reducing the size of the work force and undermining prospects of development and economic growth. Movement restrictions on the Muslim population hurt the economy. The failure to improve inter-communal relations, enforced segregation and the simmering threat of violence and instability continue to deter private sector investment. Although Rakhine is rich in natural resources, the development of extractive industries – such as oil and gas-related investments in Kyawkpyuh – have not generated a signifi cant number of new jobs nor other benefi ts for local residents. Both Rakhine and Muslim communities feel marginalised and disempowered by decisions taken in Naypyitaw.

Rakhine also represents a human rights crisis. While all communities have suffered from violence and abuse, protracted statelessness and profound discrimination have made the Muslim community particularly vulnerable to human rights violations.

Some ten percent of the world’s stateless people live in Myanmar, and the Muslims in Rakhine constitute the single biggest stateless community in the world. The community faces a number of restrictions which affect basic rights and many aspects of their daily lives. Approximately 120,000 people are still left in camps for Internally Displaced People (IDPs). The community has been denied political representation, and is generally excluded from Myanmar’s body politic. Efforts by the Government to verify citizenship claims have failed to win the confi dence of either Muslim or Rakhine communities.

Finally, Rakhine is also a security crisis. As witnessed by the Commission during its many consultations across Rakhine State, all communities harbour deep-seated fears, with the legacy of the violence of 2012 fresh in many minds. While Muslims resent continued exclusion, the Rakhine community worry about becoming a minority in the state in the future. Segregation has worsened the prospects for mutual understanding. The Government has to step up its efforts to ensure that all communities feel safe and in doing so, restore inter-communal cohesion. Time alone will not heal Rakhine.

Unless current challenges are addressed promptly, further radicalization within both communities is a real risk. The situation is particularly urgent in northern Rakhine State, where an emerging militant group attacked three Border Police posts on 9 October 2016, and where subsequent military and police operations led to tens of thousands of Muslims fl eeing across the border to Bangladesh. While Myanmar has every right to defend its own territory, a highly militarised response is unlikely to bring peace to the area. What is needed is a calibrated approach – one that combines political, developmental, security and human rights responses to ensure that violence does not escalate and inter-communal tensions are kept under control. If the legitimate grievances of local populations are ignored, they will become more vulnerable to recruitment by extremists. Addressing the development and human rights crises will help address the security crisis.

Solving these three, interrelated crises would be a challenge for any Government. It is important to recognise that Rakhine is one of several ongoing conflicts in Myanmar, and that the Government is simultaneously attempting to carry out far-reaching reforms across various sectors. As such, the Government is often stretched to its limits. It is also important to acknowledge the initiatives that this Government and its predecessors have already taken to address the issues in Rakhine.

On 16 March 2017, the Rakhine Advisory Commission submitted its interim report, addressing some of the most urgent challenges facing the state. The Commission commends the Government for its public endorsement of the report, and its expressed willingness to implement “the large majority” of the recommendations. Some positive steps have already been taken. While acknowledging the diffi cult context in which the Government works – with limited fi nancial and technical resources, as well as active resistance from some stakeholders within both communities – much more needs to be done. Above all else, political and military leaders need to chart a positive vision for the future of Rakhine State: Economically prosperous, safe and secure, where all communities enjoy the rights and freedoms they deserve. A broader vision of national identity, that fi nds strength in diversity, must be projected. Development in Rakhine is not a zero-sum-game, and the state will only prosper through inclusivity and integration. The question should not be whether Rakhines and Muslims will live together, but rather how they will live together. Reintegration, not segregation, is the best path to long-term stability and development in Rakhine State.

The people of Myanmar rightly take great pride in their history and culture, which is characterized by its rich diversity. However, in order to move forward together the past must give way to a renewed vision for a dynamic future.

Realizing such a vision will not only depend on sustained political will from the Government, but also require the support of local communities, to whom this vision must be clearly communicated. The vast majority of people the Commission has met with want a peaceful, economically prosperous future. Inevitably, there will be a minority who oppose change. Yet, while every effort should be made to understand their concerns, they should not be allowed to thwart progress. Through open dialogue and sustained engagement, and the implementation of its agenda for the rule of law, the government can win the trust of both communities.

The international community should strive to fully understand the sensitivities that prevail in Rakhine State and work with the Government to achieve a positive vision for the future. Myanmar should be open to advice and support from the international community, recognising that what it does or does not do has ramifi cations far beyond the borders of the country. To the extent that the Government wishes to treat Rakhine as “a domestic issue”, as the Commission has often heard, then it should at least declare its readiness to aid all people residing in Rakhine State, irrespective of ethnicity, religion and citizenship status, on the basis of fairness and equity.

The scope of the challenges in Rakhine State may seem immense. The Commission hopes that the ideas presented in this report will be a modest contribution to charting a way forward. But ultimately this is a task for the Government together with the communities in Rakhine State, civil society and religious and political leaders. The Advisory Commission resolutely believes that with the right vision and political will, Rakhine State can fulfi l its potential and reclaim its historical greatness.