A panel led by former UN Chief Kofi Annan criticises Myanmar's "militarised response" to the Rohingya population and calls for more equal treatment of the minority.

(TRT World and Agencies)

Myanmar must scrap restrictions on movement and citizenship for its Rohingya minority if it wants to bring peace to Rakhine state, a commission led by former UN chief Kofi Annan said Thursday.

The treatment of approximately 1.1 million Rohingya has emerged as majority Buddhist Myanmar's most contentious human rights issue as it makes a transition from decades of harsh military rule. 

Buddhist-majority Myanmar has faced growing international condemnation for its treatment of the Muslim Rohingya, who are known as the most persecuted minority in the world.

Annan's commission, appointed last year by leader Aung San Suu Kyi to come up with long-term solutions for the violence-riven, ethnically and religiously divided Rakhine state, said perpetrators of rights abuses should be held accountable.

On Thursday it released a landmark report, warning that failure to implement its recommendations could lead to more extremism and violence.

"Unless current challenges are addressed promptly, further radicalisation within both communities is a real risk," the report said, describing the Rohingya as "the single biggest stateless community in the world."

Milestone for the Rohingya

Rights groups hailed the report as a milestone for the stateless Rohingya, because the government of Aung San Suu Kyi has previously vowed to abide by its findings.

"These apartheid-like restrictions drive communities apart rather than together, eroding security and heightening the risk of mass killing," said head of human rights group Fortify Rights, Matthew Smith.

Call for end on restrictions

Among the key recommendations was ending all restrictions on movement imposed on the Rohingya and other communities in Rakhine, and shutting down refugee camps, which hold more than hold more than 120,000 people in often miserable conditions. 

It also called on Myanmar to review a controversial 1982 law that effectively bars some one million Rohingya from becoming citizens, to invest heavily in the region and to allow the media unfettered access there. 

But Annan's panel -- which has a broad mandate to look into, among other things, long-term economic development, education and healthcare in the state -- said it was "not mandated to investigate specific cases of alleged human rights violations".

It said that the government "should ensure –- based on independent and impartial investigation –- that perpetrators of serious human rights violations are held accountable."

"Crimes against humanity" 

The commission's task became increasingly urgent after the army launched a bloody crackdown in the north of Rakhine following deadly October attacks on police border posts by a previously unknown Rohingya militant group. 

The crackdown led to a UN report on human rights violations by security forces that indicated crimes against humanity.

The UN documented mass gang rape, killings, including of babies and children, brutal beatings, burned villages  and disappearances. Rohingya representatives have said approximately 400 people were slain during the operation.

More than 87,000 Rohingya have since fled to Bangladesh.

Pressure on Suu Kyi

The Annan commission's findings will put pressure on Suu Kyi's government to implement its calls for sweeping changes in Rakhine. 

But she faces stiff opposition from Buddhist nationalists, who loathe the Rohingya and want them expelled.

Suu Kyi also has little control over Myanmar's powerful and notoriously abusive military.

Many in Myanmar view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many can trace their lineage back generations.

Suu Kyi, long supported by Western governments, has faced international criticism for her handling of the crises in Rakhine state.

Phil Robertson, from Human Rights Watch, said Suu Kyi's government faced a "key test."

"Myanmar needs to throw its full weight behind these recommendations, and especially not blink in dealing with the harder stuff," he said. 

Click here to read the full report.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies