Aung San Suu Kyi and the Muslim Minority in Myanmar

Source: excerpts from an article by Jon Emont, Tablet Magazine, May 16

…In March of 2015, eight months before the election, the National Holocaust Museum dispatched a research team to Myanmar. The reason for the trip was simple. “We have an early warning project where we list the warning signs that genocide and other atrocities will occur,” said Andrea Gittleman, program manager for the Simon-Skojt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the National Holocaust Museum. “Myanmar and the Rohingya were at the top of the list.” After meeting with Myanmar’s political leaders, visiting the IDP camps, and speaking with a range of actors, it became clear to Gittleman and the team that the warning signs of genocide were present.

There are about 1.1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar, which makes them roughly 2 percent of the country’s population. Myanmar is ethnically heterogeneous but overwhelmingly Buddhist, and the Muslim Rohingya, descendants of traders who have lived in Rakhine state, on the border with Bangladesh, for centuries, are labeled as Bengalis by the state, regardless of how many generations their families have resided in Myanmar. State discrimination against the Rohingya was enshrined in the Burmese citizenship law of 1982, which did not recognize Rohingya as an indigenous race to Myanmar, rendering the majority of Rohingya stateless….

Suu KyiActivists believe that Suu Kyi’s best opportunity for improving the status of Rohingya will come in the next few months, when her party’s mandate is strongest and NLD lawmakers are still years away from having to worry about re-election. Yet as Phil Robertson of Human Rights Watch observes, “every indication has been that she is not that interested in this stuff and she has other fish to fry and she is going to fry those other fish first.” Andrea Gittleman, of the Simon-Skojt Center for the Prevention of Genocide at the National Holocaust Museum, was also not optimistic that Suu Kyi’s NLD was going to restore Rohingya civil and political rights. Indeed, in May Suu Kyi formally requested the U.S. government cease referring to Rohingya as Rohingya, but refer to them as Bengali – foreigners – instead. Whether the Rohingya begin fleeing and dying at sea again will be an early sign of what kind of democracy Myanmar’s Nobel Laureate has in mind for her country.

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One response to “Aung San Suu Kyi and the Muslim Minority in Myanmar

  1. Michael Gundy

    Unfortunately this not a new phenomenon: we see the rise of the Bumiputera (sons of the soil) movement, entrenched into Malaysian law glorifying the pure laine. With no imagination, we can recall other racially based examples from Germany, Uganda to India’s Hindu Bhāratmātā movement.

    Very sad.