Emergency Burma Meeting - Raising Awareness About Violence Against Religious and Ethnic Burmese Minorities

By UUA International Resources

Blog Photo FINAL

Blog Photo FINAL
On June 2nd, the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office co-sponsored the meeting, ‘Burma Refugee Emergency Roundtable: Democracy or Demonizations?’ with Burma Task Force USA and the Amnesty International United Nations Office. Stakeholders such as Amnesty International, Open Society Foundation Burma Project, American Jewish World Service, the United States Permanent Mission to the United Nations, and Physicians for Human Rights attended the meeting, discussing the human rights violations of Non-Buddhist religious and ethnic minorities in Burma. In particular, thousands of Rohingya, a Muslim group in Burma, are being exiled and forced to military patrolled displacement camps because they are not Buddhists. Philanthropist George Soros compared the plight of the Rohingya people in Burma to his experiences in the Nazi-created ghettos of Budapest, Hungary in a short film clip presented at the meeting. [embed]https://youtu.be/9FX64Yipw5M[/embed] In recognizing the inherent worth and dignity of every person, regardless of religious or ethnic background, we cannot stand idly by while the Rohingya face these injustices daily. By shedding light on the marginalization of the Rohingya, we can urge those in power to act before this reaches the level of genocide. Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights are conducting research about the Rohingya Islamic minority suffering at the hands of their own government and the community. As the international community raises awareness for this issue; major world leaders like Barack Obama have publicly addressed it and meetings have been convened at international conferences like the recent Oslo Conference hosted by the Parliament of the World’s Religions. At these conferences, there can be discussions, but if the Government of Burma is present, there are usually restrictions on using the words ‘Rohingya’ or ‘genocide.’ The Rohingya population needs to have the international community acknowledge the violent discrimination they face by deliberately using their name and keeping their stories alive, otherwise they will be forgotten. Various representatives from civil society organizations gave presentations on the Rohingya refugee situation during the meeting. Photographer Greg Constantine also presented his photos taken at the Rohingya displacement camps in Sittwe, Burma from 2012 to 2014. Constantine’s exhibit, entitled Exiled to Nowhere: Burma’s Rohingya, documents the living conditions in Burmese displacement camps, and the injustices the Rohingya face while living there. Constantine originally said these camps were used as temporary housing for the more than 100,000 internally displaced Rohingyas, until they could travel home. Flash forward, and these once temporary shacks have become a more permanent fixture, turning protection into pure segregation, with no long-term permanent goal for the Rohingya. Due to their lack of access to education, jobs, and healthcare; these camps have attracted aid groups such as Amnesty International and Physicians for Human Rights Along with the displacement camp crisis, Burma has seen a frightful increase in genocidal rhetoric and sometimes even action. Physicians for Human Rights researchers witnessed an Islamic school burned down with incinerated children and teachers inside. On top of this, the increase in arrests of journalists in Burma has silenced important voices, as affirmed during the meeting by Nicole Bjerler from Amnesty International. She elucidated on the significance of the statelessness of Burmese religious and ethnic minorities and how the European Union wishes to dispose Resolution 418 passed by the United States House of Representatives. This resolution is called to “[urge] the Government of Burma to end the persecution of the Rohingya people and respect internationally recognized human rights for all ethnic and religious minority groups within Burma.” Although it is important for the international community to be involved and become a base for further activism, the real work and key to success is to work with the Rohingya, on the ground in Burma. It is important to recognize our place as allies to the Rohingya community, allowing real change to occur from within. Civil society organizations are currently searching for groups and politicians who are willing to speak up and help this minority group. However, there is currently very little unification among the Rohingya community; only once locals become vocal and develop strong anti-discrimination groups will our international advocacy efforts have impact. In doing so, this would establish the respect for the interdependent web of existence that we share with ethnic and religious Burmese minorities. This year is an election year in Burma, so there could be a change in the tide. However, the general population holds strong anti-Rohingya sentiments, and the Rohingya themselves are not even able to vote. So, it is in the politicians’ best interest to continue the similar anti-Rohingya views in both campaigning and governing. Thank you to Amnesty International and Burma Task Force USA for co-sponsoring this meeting with us. Our dialogue on the injustices toward the Rohingya community is a step toward eventual progress for these people. As Unitarian Universalists, we recognize the worth of peoples undervalued by their own nation, and will continue to work toward world community with peace, liberty, and justice for all as their allies. 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