Updated: June 04, 2021 05:55 AM GMT
Protesters make the three-finger salute while holding a banner that reads 'Hills and the central region are united' during a demonstration against the military coup in Yangon on June 3. (Photo: AFP)
Myanmar’s National Unity Government (NUG) has urged the persecuted Rohingya to join it in fighting the military that seized power in a Feb. 1 coup.
“We invite Rohingya to join hands with us and with others to participate in this Spring Revolution against the military dictatorship,” the government established by ousted lawmakers said on June 3.
It also pledged to abolish a 1982 citizenship law that discriminates against the Rohingya and promised those born in Myanmar or to a Myanmar citizen would be granted citizenship.
The NUG also said it is committed to repatriating all Rohingya who remain in crowded camps in Bangladesh as soon as repatriation can be done voluntarily, safely and with dignity.
More than 740,000 Rohingya were forced to flee their homes in Rakhine state to Bangladesh following a military crackdown in August 2017.
Both the military and the former civilian government avoided using the term "Rohingya" as it is politically sensitive.
The recognition of the Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar speaks to the unity that the NUG is committed to advancing
By not recognizing the term, successive governments have implied that the Rohingya are illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh despite many of them having lived in Myanmar for decades.
The controversial 1982 law states that only ethnic nationalities whose families entered the country before 1823 are entitled to Myanmar citizenship. The Rohingya have been denied citizenship and accompanying rights and have limited access to education and government services.
During a historic first visit to Myanmar in November 2017, Pope Francis avoided the term "Rohingya" after being warned of its sensitivity.
But the pope stressed during his visit that “the future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good.”
Tom Andrews, UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, welcomed the move as an important and notable step for the National Unity Government and for Myanmar.
“The recognition of the Rohingya as citizens of Myanmar speaks to the unity that the NUG is committed to advancing,” Andrews said in a statement on June 3.
“Now, countries around the world must put the necessary pressure on the military junta to help the people of Myanmar end the junta’s illegal occupation so that legitimate representatives can actually put these commitments into law.”
Fortify Rights, a Bangkok-based rights group, said the NUG should appoint an ethnic Rohingya representative to help it implement and expand on its new policy on the rights of the minority.
“We will actively seek justice and accountability for all crimes committed by the military against the Rohingya and all other people of Myanmar throughout our history,” it said.
“We intend if necessary to initiate processes to grant the International Criminal Court jurisdiction over crimes committed within Myanmar against the Rohingya and other communities.”
The junta has labeled the NUG "terrorists" and anyone in contact with them including journalists can be charged under counter-terrorism laws.