The Latest: Rights groups, Rohingya disappointed in pope
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — The Latest on Pope Francis’s trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh (all times local):
Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslims and human rights groups say they’re disappointed Pope Francis didn’t use the term “Rohingya” in his speech to Myanmar’s leadership.
Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, said the pope missed an opportunity Tuesday since he had previously used the term that affirms the rights of Rohingya to self-identity. He said, “The Rohingya have been stripped of so many things but their name should never be one of them and we hope that the pope will use the word Rohingya in his Mass (Wednesday).”
Kyaw Naing, a Rohingya Muslim who lives in a confined camp in Rakhine state, said he was sad Francis didn’t use the term.
He said: “We were very happy and hopeful on his visit. But since the pope is not allowed to call out the name ‘Rohingya,’ we wonder how bad the human rights situation is in Myanmar. He is the holiest man in the world but it’s so sad to see that even the holiest man cannot call our identity.”
Pope Francis is insisting that Myanmar’s future depends on respecting the rights of “each ethnic group,” an indirect show of support for Rohingya Muslims who have been subject to decades of state-supported discrimination and recently a violent military crackdown.
Francis didn’t cite the crackdown or even utter the contested word “Rohingya” in his speech to Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other authorities Tuesday. But he lamented how Myanmar’s people have suffered “and continue to suffer from civil conflict and hostilities” and insisted that everyone who calls Myanmar home deserves to have their basic rights guaranteed.
Francis said Myanmar’s future must be peace based on “respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity.”
Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi is thanking Pope Francis for his support for what she says are the many “challenges” the country is facing, taking his visit to Myanmar as a sign of encouragement as she faces international criticism for the military’s brutal crackdown on Rohingya Muslims.
In a speech to Francis before Myanmar authorities and diplomats Tuesday, Suu Kyi didn’t refer to the more than 620,000 Rohingya who have been driven out of Rakhine to Bangladesh after the military began what it called “clearance operations” following militant attacks in August.
She said she appreciated those who are supporting the government as it address long-standing social, economic and political issues “that have eroded trust and understanding, harmony and cooperation.”
She said the government’s aim is to protect rights, foster tolerance and ensure security for all.
Suu Kyi’s international image has been damaged by state-led violence against the Rohingya Muslim minority that has created Asia’s worst refugee crisis in decades.
The Oxford City Council has stripped the Freedom of the City Award it gave 20 years ago to Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, saying those who turn a blind eye to violence tarnish its own reputation.
The council motion was supported unanimously Monday evening and cited Suu Kyi’s inaction as Rohingya Muslims are subjected to a crackdown being described by the U.N. and others as textbook ethnic cleansing.
Suu Kyi was under house arrest for 15 years during Myanmar’s long military dictatorship and Oxford said the award was given to her originally because her advocacy for democracy in her country reflected Oxford’s values of tolerance and internationalism.
Oxford Councillor Mary Clarkson said in a statement, “We celebrated her for her opposition to oppression and military rule in Burma.”
Suu Kyi is to meet Pope Francis on Tuesday in the country’s capital, Naypyitaw.
Pope Francis has met with a Myanmar Buddhist leader who’s been criticized for using ethnic slurs against Muslims.
Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said Tuesday that Francis met briefly with Buddhist leader Sitagu Sayadaw separately from an interfaith meeting with other religious leaders at the Catholic archbishop’s residence in Yangon.
Burke said the encounter was “always in an effort to encourage peace and fraternal coexistence as the only way ahead.”
Sitagu has been criticized for using slurs against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar and the target of a much-criticized military crackdown.
The Vatican says the pope stressed a message of “unity in diversity” in a 40-minute meeting with Myanmar’s Buddhist, Hindu, Muslim, Christian and Jewish leaders.
Spokesman Greg Burke said Francis told the local religious leaders they should work together to rebuild the country and that if they argue, they should argue like brothers, who reconcile afterward.
He arrived in the country on Monday and is scheduled to meet later with the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital.
Pope Francis will be meeting with leaders of Myanmar’s different religious communities at the Catholic archbishop’s residence in Yangon.
He arrived in the country on Monday and is scheduled to meet separately Tuesday with the country’s leader Aung San Suu Kyi in the capital.
Myanmar is predominantly Buddhist with small Muslim, Hindu and Christian populations.
The country’s most revered and prominent Buddhist leader Sitagu is not among the religious leaders expected to meet the pope on Tuesday though the monk met with Francis’s predecessor, Pope Benedict XVI.
Sitagu has been criticized for using ethnic slurs against Muslims, particularly the Rohingya, who are denied citizenship in Myanmar and the target of a much-criticized military crackdown.
Earlier this year, Sitagu was awarded the title ‘Honorable, Excellent, and Great Teacher of Country and State’ by the country’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Pope Francis begins his first full day in Myanmar traveling to the country’s capital to meet with the civilian leader, Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, a day after hosting the military general in charge of the crackdown on the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
Francis’ speech Tuesday to Suu Kyi, other Myanmar authorities and the diplomatic corps in Naypyitaw is the most anticipated of his visit, given the outcry over the crackdown, which the U.S. and U.N. have described as a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” to drive out the Rohingya.
Myanmar’s Catholic leaders have stressed that Suu Kyi has no voice to speak out against the military, and have urged support for her efforts to move Myanmar toward a more democratic future that includes all its religious minorities, Christians included.