Annan Urges Economic, Social Reform in Myanmar State

Former U.N. Secretary General and Chairman of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State Kofi Annan talks to journalists during a press briefing on the final report on Rakhine State in August in Yangon, Myanmar. Photo: Thein Zaw / Associated Press

YANGON — A commission led by former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Thursday recommended economic development and social justice to counter deadly violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, stressing that the government of Aung San Suu Kyi must act quickly and decisively, even in the face of public opposition.

The Rakhine Commission, established in August 2016 at Suu Kyi’s behest, said in a report that the situation in Rakhine state is becoming more precarious and requires a sustained and coordinated effort by civilian and military authorities. The advisory commission has six members from Myanmar and three foreigners, including Annan.

“Unless concerted action led by the government and aided by all sectors of the government and society is taken soon, we risk the return of another cycle of violence and radicalization, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine state,” Annan said at a news conference in Yangon to present the report.

Human rights groups, which have been highly critical of government failures in addressing the problems in Rakhine, generally applauded the report’s suggestions.


“The commission has developed an impressive set of common-sense, focused recommendations that if fully implemented could bring the sort of progress that has been missing in Rakhine state for decades,” said Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch. “The ball is now in Suu Kyi’s court, and we’ll see if she can meet the high expectations created when she first asked Kofi Annan to lead this effort.”

Annan said his group’s recommendations address the low level of development in Rakhine, with the suggestions including investment promotion and community participation in directing growth.

“Poverty is pervasive and diminishes everyone’s expectation of a better life,” he said.
But the report’s key calls were to lift the economic burden imposed on the Muslim population by their lack of documentation as citizens with full rights, and limits imposed on their freedom of movement. It called on the government to step up its verification process for the country’s approximately 1 million Rohingya, most of who are stateless, and for the Rohingya to take part in the government process despite flaws in its current implementation.

“The commission has put forward honest and constructive recommendations which we know will create debate,” Annan said. “However, if adopted and implemented in the spirit in which they were conceived, I firmly believe that our recommendations … can trace a path to lasting peace, development and respect for the rule of law.”

Amnesty International stressed the need to act on the report’s recommendations.

“This comprehensive report released by the commission today clearly outlines many of the steps Myanmar’s authorities must take to end discrimination and segregation in the region,” said James Gomez, the group’s director for Southeast Asia and the Pacific.

“Without concrete action by the authorities to address long-standing grievances and redress decades of violations, people in the region will continue to be trapped in a cycle of deprivation and abuse.”

Annan did not speak directly about recent alleged human rights abuses in Rakhine state by the military against the Rohingya population.

Last October, the army launched counterinsurgency operations in Rohingya areas of the state after the killing of nine border guards by insurgents described by the government as terrorists. U.N. human rights investigators and independent rights organizations charge that soldiers and police killed and raped civilians and burned down more than 1,000 homes during the operations. Since then, there have been signs of an increased Rohingya insurgency, threatening to accelerate a cycle of repression and resistance.


The Rohingya have long faced severe discrimination in Buddhist-majority Myanmar and were the targets of inter-communal violence in 2012 that killed hundreds and drove about 140,000 people  predominantly Rohingya  from their homes to camps for the internally displaced, where most remain.

Annan said the importance of the commission’s task “was both underscored and complicated by the attacks on security personnel that took place in northern Rakhine state in October 2016 , which reinforced our determination to find durable solutions to the instability and insecurity that continue to blight the prospects of Rakhine state.”

Story: Esther Htusan