Myanmar’s downtrodden Rohingya Muslims have been denied citizenship, targeted in deadly sectarian violence and corralled into dirty camps without aid. Myanmar’s government is now pressuring foreign officials not to speak the group’s name, and the tactic appears to be working. U.N. officials say they avoid the term in public to avoid stirring tensions between the country’s Buddhists and Muslims. And after U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently met with Myanmar leaders, a senior State Department official told reporters the U.S. thinks the name issue should be “set aside.”
How will the rights of the Rohingya be protected by people who won’t even use the word ‘Rohingya’?
Tun Khin, Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK
Myanmar authorities view the Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, not one of the 135 officially recognized ethnic groups. Longstanding discrimination against this stateless minority, estimated to number 1.3 million, has intensified as Myanmar has opened up after decades of military rule. More than 140,000 Rohingya have been trapped in crowded camps since extremist mobs from the Buddhist majority began chasing them from their homes two years ago, killing up to 280 people. Racism against the Rohingya is widespread, and some see in the communal violence the warning signs of genocide. The United States has called on the government to protect them. When President Barack Obama visited Myanmar less than two years ago, he told students at Yangon University: “There is no excuse for violence against innocent people. And the Rohingya hold themselves—hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do.”