‘Rohingya’ seems to be the hardest word to say for the Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
The Rohingya are Muslims from Burma who, suffering persecution in their homeland, are fleeing by the thousands. Many of them were aboard the boats pushed around the seas of South East Asia last week According to the UN more than 15,000 have attempted the perilous journey across the waves this year alone, with at least 300 dying along the way.
The Rohingya are often the target for Buddhist mobs in Burma which has caused many t be displaced with the country, there are tens of thousands living in squalid camps often still in danger of attack. Their treatment in Burma, and now by surrounding nations once they take to the seas, has been roundly criticized by many voices across the world. However, the one voice inside Burma which for decades was taken to be the conscience of the nation – has been silent.
Supporters of Nobel Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi say she has not spoken out against the inhumane treatment of the Rohingya in case she inflames the situation. This seems a poor excuse given both the already dire situation the Muslim minority are suffering, and the fact that during her years in exile, and under house arrest in Burma, her most powerful weapon was her moral authority in speaking out against the injustices of the military junta. Her silence now gives succour to the oppressor.
‘The Lady’ as she is known in Burma cannot even bring herself to openly call the people by their name. Under Burmese law the Rohingya, who have been in Burma for generations, are considered illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, officials refer to them as Bengalis. When the UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon and President Obama both used the term “Rohingya” the government criticized them both for using the term.
In 1982 the government recognized 135 ethnic groups within the country and gave them full citizenship but the Rohingya were excluded and are now stateless, refused basic rights, and are limited by law to having no more than 2 children.
It is election year in Burma and there are no votes in standing up for a minority regarded as second class citizens who inhabit the state of Rakhine up on the Bangladesh border.
Aung San Suu Kyi once wrote – “Words can move hearts, words can change perceptions, words can set nations and peoples in powerful motion.” The Lady is gifted with words. She is not using them.