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Why doesn't Aung San Suu Kyi speak up for the Rohingya?

Hostilities towards the Rohingya people could derail Myanmar's progress to democracy and Suu Kyi could make a vast contribution to resolving the crisis. Note: this is an edited extract from a much longer article.

  • Akbar Ahmed and Harrison Akins
  • Myanmar
  • October 30, 2012
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With Suu Kyi’s near universal appeal and star power, she is in a unique position for both political leadership in Burma as well as a voice of Buddhist compassion and an ally for the oppressed. Buddha stressed that compassion lay at the heart of a Buddha nature and demonstrates one’s respect for the dignity of life.

Yet, Suu Kyi has remained curiously silent on one of the most urgent humanitarian issues facing Burma, the plight of the Rohingya people.

The Rohingya, whom the BBC and many NGOs call “one of the world’s most persecuted minority groups,” are the little known Muslim people of the coastal Arakan state of western Burma. Over the past three decades, the Rohingya have been systematically pushed out of their homes by Burma’s military government and subjected to widespread violence along with the complete negation of their rights and even identity. They have become a stateless minority.

Many hundreds of thousands have fled to neighboring countries. The Rohingya are surrounded by adherents of the great faiths - Buddhism, Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity - all of which emphasise compassion and charity for the needy. Despite these compulsions from their faiths, many Buddhists, Muslims, Hindus and Christians in South Asia have treated the Rohingya with nothing but outright hostility….

…. The Rohingya are also subjected to modern-day slavery, where they are forced to work on infrastructure projects, such as constructing “model villages” to house Burmese settlers intended to displace them. Women are susceptible to forced prostitution by the Burmese security forces.

While many efforts have been made by the Burmese government towards the creation of an open and democratic political system, there is still much more to be done. Suu Kyi, following the example of inclusive leaders like Nelson Mandela, should reach out to the Rohingya people and set a positive precedent for an all-embracing society which welcomes the participation of the Rohingya as well as all the ethnic minorities of Burma. In this way, she will also be living up to the ideals of her Buddhist faith to show compassion towards those who suffer. Where she leads, others will follow.

Only when the systematic violence against the Rohingya ends can a truly democratic Burma be legitimate in the eyes of its own people and the international community.

But the first step is for Aung San Suu Kyi and Burma to acknowledge the Rohingya exist.

Full Story: Aung San Suu Kyi, the Rohingya of Burma and the challenge of faith

Source: Washington Post
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