GENEVA — Southeast Asian parliamentarians have lent their support to a public call for the UN Human Rights Council to establish a Commission of Inquiry or similar international mechanism to investigate allegations of serious human rights violations in Myanmar’s Rakhine State. ASEAN Parliamentarians for Human Rights (APHR) was one of 13 signatories to a letter sent to permanent representatives of the Council’s member and observer states on Friday, urging them to support such a move.
The letter, which was also signed by regional and international rights groups, follows months of calls by APHR and others for an independent investigation into alleged atrocities in Rakhine State. It reiterates that inquiries launched by the Myanmar government into the conduct of security forces have failed to demonstrate genuine independence and are therefore insufficient to address the situation.
“The Myanmar government has proven itself incapable of properly investigating these allegations. It’s long past time for regional neighbors and the international community to step up,” said APHR Chairperson Charles Santiago, a member of the Malaysian Parliament.
“The possibility of ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity must be taken seriously. They represent a black mark on ASEAN’s collective conscience, as well as that of the global community, and demand a rigorous, credible investigation. A Commission of Inquiry would be a step toward accountability and is a must if we are to have any hope of ending impunity for these kinds of violations.”
Since the start of so-called “clearance operations” by security forces in northern Rakhine State in early October, nearly 70,000 refugees — mainly Rohingya Muslims — have fled across the border into Bangladesh. Allegations of torture, extrajudicial killing, sexual violence, and other abuses have been documented, including in a 3 February UN report, which found strong evidence of crimes against humanity and possible ethnic cleansing. The situation has led top UN officials, including Special Rapporteur Yanghee Lee and High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, to call for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry.
In today’s letter, APHR and co-signatories argue that there is “no credible or effective alternative to a Commission of Inquiry, or similar international mechanism, to address and begin the process of effectively finding and verifying the truth of what has happened, and ensuring justice and accountability for human rights violations and abuses committed.”
It comes days after the UN Human Rights Council began its 34th session on 27 February and just over two weeks since the Myanmar government declared an official end to military operations in northern Rakhine State.
Out of the ten ASEAN member states, two — Indonesia and the Philippines — are currently members of the UN Human Rights Council. APHR urged those governments, in particular, to support the call.
“These are issues that affect our entire region, and our responses will reflect our regional character,” Santiago said. “It is critical for ASEAN member states to recognize the urgency of this matter and not hide behind false invocations of ‘non-interference.’ Indonesia and the Philippines should be leading the charge in the Human Rights Council to launch this investigation.”