The “Independent Commission of Enquiry” (ICOE) on Rakhine State, announced by the Government of Myanmar in May 2018 and established in July, has not demonstrated any reasonable prospect of meeting international standards of independence, impartiality or effectively contributing to justice or accountability for human rights violations constituting crimes under international law.
The ICOE is not transparent about how its information gathering will, if at all, shed light on the truth, or contribute to accountability and redress, while protecting individuals it comes into contact with. It is also yet to fulfill conditions called for by the UN Human Rights Council in its September 2018 resolution 39/2.
Any move to shift reference in the Council resolution currently under discussion, to include more positive recognition of the ICOE, would be wholly unjustified.
Furthermore, the government continues its unwillingness to address credible allegations of crimes under international law, including in its report to the CEDAW Committee in February in which rape allegations were dismissed as “wild claims.”
The International Commission of Jurists (ICJ), in response to a “Call for Submissions” on 12 December 2018, inviting “individuals, groups, witnesses and alleged victims to submit their complaints or accounts, with supporting data and evidence,” wrote to the ICOE Chairperson with four questions, summarised as:
- Are any measures in place to protect complainants and witnesses against threats of violence, legal action or other forms of reprisals for providing information to the ICOE? What specific measures have been taken to ensure the confidentiality of any materials submitted, and to protect the identities and wellbeing of witnesses?
- Given statements by commissioners that accountability is not part of their mandate, as the ICOE is seeking submissions of data and evidence from victims and witnesses, please clarify the ICOE’s position on how these submissions will be utilized – including for possible criminal investigations.
- Can you provide information on any measures taken to deal with real or perceived conflicts of interests that may affect the public’s trust in the ICOE’s impartiality and independence, including victims and witnesses and others who may submit materials in response to your call?
- The recommendations of past Commissions of Inquiry have not been fully implemented. Given the sensitive nature of the ICOE’s mandate, what considerations have been taken into account to increase the likelihood that recommendations will be more effectively implemented than in the past?
The ICOE did not respond to these questions, despite having formally acknowledged receipt of the letter. The deadline for public submissions to the ICOE has now passed. Its silence in this instance illustrates a broader failure to demonstrate independence or transparency and underlines protection concerns.
The ICJ is unaware of efforts by the ICOE to genuinely seek cooperation with the UN Independent International Fact Finding Mission or the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, as has been called for by the Council.
Based on extensive experience and research in Myanmar and globally, and recalling a 5-page legal assessment of the ICOE published in September 2018, the ICJ remains of the view that the ICOE, like previous government-backed inquires, cannot effectively contribute to or deliver justice or accountability.
Myanmar-Inquiry Rakhine-Advocacy-2019-BUR (Burmese version, in PDF)