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Rights Group Welcomes Report On Myanmar’s Rakhine

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The group, however, highlights that changes must also be made to law denying Rohingya Muslims citizenship

Myanmar’s government agreed Friday to implement many interim recommendations made by a commission tasked with resolving tensions in troubled Rakhine State -- which a rights group said must also call for amendments to a law denying Rohingya Muslims citizenship.

The region has seen a series of communal violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims -- described by the United Nations as among the most persecuted minority groups worldwide -- since mid-2012 that has left more than 100 dead and over 100,000 people displaced in camps.

The release of the interim report by the Advisory Commission on Rakhine, led by former United Nations secretary-general Kofi Annan, came after a months-long military operation in Rakhine’s north during which rights groups documented evidence of widespread abuses by security forces.

It made 12 recommendations that the government can take to immediately improve the situation including urgent training for security forces for better respect of human rights, closure of all camps for internally displaced persons and allowing Muslim representation in local administrations.

The office of State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi said in a press release Friday that most of the recommendations would be implemented “promptly with a view to maximum effectiveness”.

“The implementation of a few will be contingent upon the situation on the ground but we believe there will be speedy progress,” it said without giving details.

It added that the government concurs with the recommendations, and believes they will have a positive impact on the process of national reconciliation and development.

The report released Thursday also renewed calls for unimpeded access for humanitarian groups and journalists to affected areas in northern Rakhine.

It also stressed the need for independent and impartial investigations into allegations of crimes committed on and since fatal Oct. 9 attacks on police stations and the subsequent military crackdown.

United States-based advocacy group Amnesty International called on Myanmar’s government to immediately act on the Commission’s recommendations to end the media blackout in northern Rakhine and ensure the perpetrators of human rights violations are held accountable.

“Unfortunately, the commission’s recommendations do not far enough to address the increasingly dire situation on the ground,” said the group’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, Champa Patel.

“There is much more the authorities can and should do, including lifting restrictions on freedom of movement for the Rohingya and other Muslims,” she underlined.

Rohingya in impoverished Rakhine have been effectively denied citizenship by a nationality law enacted in 1982 by Ne Win, a military strongman who staged a coup and whose 1962-1988 leadership saw the adoption of xenophobic policies.

The official term for the unrecognized Rohingya had previously been “Bengali”, which suggests they are not from Myanmar but interlopers from neighboring Bangladesh.

The Commission also recommended that Myanmar speed up the citizenship verification process in Rakhine and grant those verified as citizens all benefits, rights and freedoms associated with citizenship.

Amnesty International, however, expressed particular concern about the Commission’s failure to recommend necessary amendments to the 1982 Citizenship Law -- calling on the body to address it and other human rights violations in its final report, due by August.

It also called on the UN to form a Commission of Inquiry to investigate the serious violations committed by security forces in north Rakhine as the government’s own investigations lack the independence and impartiality necessary to deliver justice for victims.

“Given the Myanmar government’s repeated failure to carry out a credible and effective investigation, the UN should mandate a Commission of Inquiry, as recommended by the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights and the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar,” said Patel.

Security forces had placed Rakhine’s Maungdaw area -- predominately inhabited by Rohingya Muslims -- on lockdown for nearly five months following the Oct. 9 attacks near the border with Bangladesh.

During the military operations, the UN and rights groups documented evidence of widespread abuses such as killings -- including of children and babies -- gang rape, brutal beatings, the burning of villages and disappearances.

The government has said at least 106 people have been killed since the attacks.

However, Rohingya advocacy groups claim around 400 Rohingya were killed, women raped and Rohingya villages torched.

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