Burma Task Force works to confront the Myanmar Government’s denial of Rohingya rights and the failure to stop anti-Muslim and anti-Rohingya sentiment from spreading. Noting the unprecedented mass suffering caused by the Burmese military in recent months, we take this moment of media attention to deplore the dishonesty of Aung San Suu Kyi and General Min Aung Hlaing in their dealings with international leaders, including Pope Francis. Indeed, despite the current policy of ethnic cleansing, the General met the Pope this Monday to tell him there was "no discrimination" in Myanmar.
The Myanmar government has been asking the international community to stop even saying the name “Rohingya” as part of their genocidal campaign of erasure targeting the minority community. Now that Pope Francis has apparently agreed to play by these rules, out of caution if not principle, this precedent may make it easier for the international community to give in to Myanmar demands to cast in doubt Rohingya identity and deny rights. Already, several UN agencies have scrubbed out the name “Rohingya” from their public reports, to protect humanitarian programs from attacks from nationalists. Therefore, Burma Task Force regrets that the Pope has so far not mentioned the name of the Rohingya minority.
However, we do appreciate that during his trip to Myanmar, Pope Francis has urged respect for "each ethnicity and its identity" and called on Myanmar's government to ensure "justice and respect for human rights." Speaking after a meeting with Aung San Suu Kyi, the Pope also stated that civil conflict and hostilities in the country "have lasted all too long and created deep divisions" and that "Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building." These are very valuable words that the Burmese people should take to heart, whatever their faith tradition.
“By meeting with Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh in the next few days, Pope Francis is showing the world how to respond with actions, if not words,” stated Imam Malik Mujahid, Chairman of Burma Task Force, a US-based NGO. “Though we deeply appreciate such gestures, Burma Task Force still hopes that the Pope will once again speak aloud the name of this suffering people. We deeply regret that so many in the Myanmar Church seem fearful to show public solidarity with this Muslim minority, and call on all ethnic groups to work together to peace and co-existence. Many of these ethnic communities have suffered and continue to suffer from harsh repressive measures and military operations, even targeting churches.”
Articles have indicated that Islamophobia and anti-Rohingya bias exists among some local Catholic leaders. It is also troubling that the Pope met with the Buddhist leader Sitagu, who recently called for genocide against non-Buddhists. Myanmar’s current protector is China, where Catholics and other Christians are persecuted, along with Uighur Muslims and Tibetan Buddhists. The main issue is not whether or not the Pope speaks his mind. The current proposed “Repatriation Deal” between Bangladesh and Myanmar is a dangerous fraud. Much stronger human rights protections are urgently needed, even after the media circus moves on.