It’s now clear that Myanmar’s new “independent commission of inquiry” into human rights violations committed in Rakhine State will not be a serious and impartial investigation that will identify alleged perpetrators to be brought to justice.
The most recent crimes occurred during deadly attacks on over two-dozen police posts by Rohingya militants and Myanmar security forces’ brutal campaign of ethnic cleansing involving murder, rape, and arson that forced more than 700,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh in late 2017.
In a Thursday news conference, commission chairwoman Amb. Rosario Manalo from the Philippines discussed the commission’s terms of reference and outlined some of its “salient points.” Among other things, she said without providing specifics, those who speak with the four-member commission would not be subjected to harassment or revenge attacks. Such harassment and intimidation have been a routine occurrence for critical witnesses in previous investigations in Rakhine State, as documented by the UN Special Rapporteur, Human Rights Watch, and others.
She also asserted that the commission would be able to maintain its independence and impartiality, a dubious claim given that one of the Myanmar nationals on the commission, economist Aung Tun Thet, has repeatedly denied that atrocities were committed by security forces, saying “ethnic cleansing” doesn’t exist in Myanmar.
But the death knell for accountability came later, when Manalo spoke without prompting to “everybody listening and interested”:
I assure you there will be no blaming of anybody, no finger pointing of anybody because we don't achieve anything by that procedure. Our procedure is: “Welcome, help us so we can help you.” Together we cooperate. It is not a diplomatic approach and a very bad approach in fact to be doing finger pointing, blaming, to say “you are accountable!” That is quarrelling. That is not looking for peace. That is why we have adopted this process.
Yet the commission was ostensibly created to conduct an investigation “with a view towards accountability.” Without pointing the finger, without alleging blame, how can the process of accountability begin? How will there ever be justice for Myanmar’s Rohingya population?
Concerned governments should treat the commission with heavy skepticism and make sure Myanmar’s government doesn’t use this commission to shield itself from the critical scrutiny it deserves.