Commission seeks timeline from Myanmar for citizenship verification

The Myanmar government needs to lay out a clear strategy and timeline for the citizenship verification process which should be transparent and efficient with a solid basis in the existing legislation, says an international commission.

The Commission, led by former UN chief Kofi Annan, came up with the recommendation in its final report released on Thursday, reports UNB.

“There’s no time to lose. The situation in Rakhine State is becoming more precarious.

So, my fervent hope now is that all concerned will follow through on the recommendations of the Commission without delay,” Annan said in his remarks a copy of which received by UNB.

After one year of consultations held across Rakhine State and in other parts of the country and the region, the Advisory Commission submitted its final report to the President and State Counsellor of Myanmar.

The report recommends urgent and sustained action on a number of fronts to prevent violence, maintain peace, foster reconciliation and offer a sense of hope to the State’s hard-pressed population.

Some 87,000 undocumented Myanmar nationals (UMNs) have so far entered Bangladesh following an outbreak of violence on October 9 last year in the Rakhine State of Myanmar.

Though the influx slowed down in late February 2017, fresh arrivals from Myanmar were reported in July this year, according to an assessment made by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

The Advisory Commission on Rakhine State suggested the Myanmar government to intensify its efforts to combat corruption within the security agencies operating along the Myanmar-Bangladeshi border.

It welcomed the expressed intention of the Myanmar government to establish a Joint Commission with Bangladesh, as recommended in the Commission’s interim report, to discuss bilateral relations, challenges, and opportunities of mutual interest.

The Joint Commission – which should meet at least every quarter – needs to address issues such trade promotion, infrastructure, people-to-people contact, the management of illegal migration, documentation of refugees and IDPs, voluntary return of refugees, combating human trafficking and drug smuggling, and security cooperation to combat violent extremism.

It said the governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh should facilitate the voluntary return of refugees from Bangladesh to Myanmar through joint verification, in accordance with international standards and with assistance from international partners.

When refugees from northern Rakhine State return from Bangladesh, the government of Myanmar should help create a secure environment and, where necessary, assist with shelter construction for those whose homes have been destroyed, it said.

The Commission in its report said cooperation on security and border management requires urgent attention, particularly in light of the October 2016 attacks in Maungdaw.

The Commission noted that substantial progress has been made since the interim report on security cooperation and border issues, including a clear willingness to finalise the three MoU’s which will formalize a deepening of Myanmar-Bangladeshi security cooperation.

The Commission is of the opinion that this effort should be continued and intensified, and the implementation of the MoU’s started as soon as possible.

It took note of the work of the Joint Trade Commission and encourages both governments to rapidly increase their bilateral trade.

The governments of Myanmar and Bangladesh could actively encourage more exchanges between civil society, think tanks, academics and the private sector to promote mutual understanding and cooperation.

The report said Myanmar should immediately ensure that those who are verified as citizens enjoy all benefits, rights and freedoms associated with citizenship.

This will not only serve to strengthen the government’s rule-of-law agenda, but also demonstrate immediate tangible benefits of the verification exercise.

The strategy should be discussed with members of the Rakhine and Muslim communities, and communicated through a broad outreach campaign. The strategy should include a clear timeline for the different stages of the process.

The process should also be made simpler, and enable individuals to apply for citizenship at the same time as they apply for NVC.

To increase the accessibility of the process, the use of an uncle or aunt’s documents (or other family members) should be permitted when the parent’s documents are missing.

The government should ensure that the verification process is adequately resourced, and clarify the status of those whose citizenship application is not accepted.

The final report of the Advisory Commission chaired by Kofi Annan puts forward recommendations to surmount the political, socioeconomic and humanitarian challenges that currently face Rakhine State. It builds on the Commission’s interim report released in March of this year.

“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 radicalisation, which will further deepen the chronic poverty that afflicts Rakhine State,” said Kofi Annan, Chair of the Advisory Commission on Rakhine State.

The final report addresses in depth a broad range of structural issues that are impediments to the peace and prosperity of Rakhine State.

Several recommendations focus specifically on citizenship verification, rights and equality before the law, documentation, the situation of the internally displaced and freedom of movement, which affect the Muslim population disproportionally.

An overview of the thematic focus areas of the report and its recommendations can be found below.

The report is the outcome of over 150 consultations and meetings held by the Advisory Commission since its launch in September 2016. Commission members have travelled extensively throughout Rakhine State, and held meetings in Yangon and Naypyitaw, Indonesia, Thailand, Bangladesh, and Geneva.

“The Commission has put forward honest and constructive recommendations which we know will create debate,” Commission Chair Kofi Annan said.

“However, if adopted and implemented in the spirit in which they were conceived, I firmly believe that our recommendations, along with those of our interim report, can trace a path to lasting peace, development and respect for the rule of law in Rakhine State.”

With the submission of its final report, the Advisory Commission on Rakhine has completed its mandate. However, the Commission’s report recommends a national mechanism be established to ensure the effective implementation of its recommendations.

“We propose a ministerial-level appointment to be made with the sole function of coordinating policy on Rakhine State and ensuring the effective implementation of the Rakhine Advisory Commission’s recommendations,” says Commission Chair Kofi Annan.

“The appointee should be supported by a permanent and well-staffed secretariat, which will be an integral part of the Central Committee on Implementation of Peace and Development in Rakhine State and support its work.”

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