Nov 21 2012
This past Monday President Obama became the first sitting President of the United States to visit the country of Myanmar. Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has had a long and violent history of military control since 1962. It was not until 2011 that the country put in place a democratically elected government. And, although the United States lifted its sanctions on Myanmar this year, the government still stands guilty of human rights abuses.
One of the most glaring human rights issues facing the government is the brutal treatment of the Muslim Rohingya, a group labeled by the United Nations as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities. There are about 800,000 Rohingya living in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, representing about 4% of the population. In 1982, the Myanmar government stripped the Rohingya of their citizenship and imposed restrictions on their education, marriage and property rights. Buddhist monks have been targeting the Rohingya for over a decade by handing out anti-Muslim leaflets and attacking mosques and Muslim-owned businesses.
This past June, an outbreak of violence occurred in the Rakhine province of Myanmar between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims which led to over 10,000 deaths between the two groups and hundreds of thousands of Rohingya fleeing the country as refugees to neighboring Muslim nations. President Thein Sein’s proposal this past September to deport hundreds of thousands of Rohingya was met with huge support from thousands of Buddhist monks who marched in approval of the plan.
Nobel Peace Prize winner and Burmese opposition party leader Aung San Suu Kyi has only recently started to speak out about the situation. President Sein is now stating that he will consider citizenship for the Rohingya following President Obama’s address at Rangoon University in which he stated, “I welcome the government’s commitment to address the issues of injustice and accountability, and humanitarian access and citizenship. That’s a vision that the world will support as you move forward.”
GUEST: Edith Mirante, Director of Project Maje, and author of Down the Rathole: Adventures Underground on the Frontiers of Burma