Challenging Hate with Solidarity and Recognition

On 30 October, 2017, one of Myanmar’s most famous and influential Buddhist monks – Ashin Nyanissara, better known as Sitagu Sayadaw – gave a sermon to Myanmar[1] military officers in which he told a parable that has been taken by many as an attempt to offer moral justification for killing non-Buddhists in order to protect Buddhism. Protection of Buddhism is an aim which many Myanmar nationalists have cited in supporting the military’s actions in Rakhine State. In this context, the sermon was widely seen as a thinly-veiled spiritual justification for killing of Rohingya Muslims, and one that could also apply to killing other members of religious minorities, including Karen, Kachin and Chin, the vast majority of whom are Christian. Sitagu Sayadaw’s comments add momentum to the hatred and violence against the Muslim minority and bring these sentiments within the mainstream of Myanmar Buddhist nationalist community. When given to a military audience during active military operations and in a context of increasing militarization in ethnic areas, his speech is particularly concerning.

Sitagu Sayadaw’s sermon is not the only interpretation of Burmese Buddhism and its relevance to the current crisis in Rakhine State, and other Buddhist monks and laypeople have challenged the use of Buddhism for political, nationalist and violent ends. For instance, Thet Swe Win, a Buddhist and a leader of the Center for Youth and Social Harmony, has been outspoken in defense of the Rohingyas’ human rights. However, in the current atmosphere of hate speech and attacks against any people who speak out for the Rohingya, voices of tolerance and human rights have been all but silenced. The failure of the Myanmar Government and the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee to condemn Sitagu Sayadaw’s remarks speaks volumes to any who may seek to express a different view.

In the current atmosphere of hate speech and attacks against any people who speak out for the Rohingya, voices of tolerance and human rights have been all but silenced.

Nonetheless, brave organizations and individuals have recognized moral imperatives and started to speak out, mostly from other ethnic minority communities who have experienced the military’s abuses in the past. These include the Karen National Union, the Karen Women’s Organization, the Women’s League of Burma and the Karen Peace Support Network, all of whom have issued statements condemning the military’s attacks against the Rohingya and connecting these attacks to similar patterns of violations committed against Karen and other ethnic minorities in previous decades. At a gathering in Washington, D.C., the Karen Organization of the United States recognized that ethnic cleansing was being committed against the Rohingya, and called attention to the fact that such ethnic cleansing had been committed by the Myanmar military against other ethnic groups in the past. While not all of these statements have used the name ‘Rohingya,’ they are steps in the direction of building solidarity and speaking out for human rights. Under the current condition of fear, these statements are also a pathway towards widening the space for those who may be silenced by ongoing threats and intimidation.

There is a need for those with power and protection to speak out to further widen this space. This includes international actors with influence and moral authority. On 27 November 2017, Pope Francis will make his first papal visit to Myanmar. While there are some who are concerned that the Pope using the term ‘Rohingya’ within Myanmar would be “inflammatory,” by specifically naming the community that is enduring the abuses, there is a high expectation by the human rights and humanitarian community worldwide on the Pope to directly address the Rohingya crisis, something he has commented on frequently in the past and show much-needed moral leadership and create space for others to speak out as well. Speaking on the topic recently, Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice’s Advisory Board Chair, stated during the opening of the recent ASEAN civil society conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum, “[w]e should be able to call the name ‘Rohingya’ because that is the name they wish to be called. And because that is the name that gives face to their suffering and their aspirations to live in this world like us as equal human beings as we are.”

“[w]e should be able to call the name ‘Rohingya’ because that is the name they wish to be called. And because that is the name that gives face to their suffering and their aspirations to live in this world like us as equal human beings as we are.”

Khin Ohmar, Progressive Voice’s Advisory Board Chair

All those who suffer are our brothers and sisters, and deserve justice and protection, as Myanmar’s Cardinal Charles Maung Bo has bravely said in the past. This includes the over 600,000 Rohingya who have fled violent attacks by Myanmar security forces and Rakhine nationalist mobs, including systematic burning of villages, killing, torture and extreme sexual violence including gang rape and rape of children, as well as the Rohingya who remain in internally displaced persons camps in Rakhine State subject to restrictions on movement and little to no access to humanitarian aid, livelihoods, health care and education. Recognizing the Rohingya as brothers and sisters and speaking out in solidarity is an important first step toward a future of peace, reconciliation and equality for Myanmar’s diverse society based on moral leadership and not based on fear of the “other”.

Cardinal Charles Maung Bo’s recent request that Pope Francis not use the term “Rohingya” concerns all of us who are searching for moral authority to guide Myanmar leaders to lead the country and its peoples to stop the hate campaign being spread by Buddhist nationalists and to exercise tolerance, recognition and respect of diversity. We hope that, as one of the highest global moral authorities, Pope Francis will continue to shed the light on the plight of the Rohingya, and that as one of the highest moral authorities in Myanmar, Cardinal Charles Maung Bo will as well.
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[1] One year following the 1988 pro-democracy uprising, the former military junta changed the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar overnight. Progressive Voice uses the term ‘Myanmar’ in acknowledgement that most people of the country use this term. However, the deception of inclusiveness and the historical process of coercion by the former State Peace and Development Council military regime into usage of ‘Myanmar’ rather than ‘Burma’ without the consent of the people is recognized and not forgotten. Thus, under certain circumstances, ‘Burma’ is used.

Resources from the past week

actions

Statements and Press Releases

Rohingya Crisis: EU Foreign Ministers Must Back Global Arms Embargo on 13th November
By Burma Campaign UK

Burma Campaign UK to Revive Burma ‘Dirty List’ of Companies Linked to Human Rights Violations
By Burma Campaign UK

Aung San Suu Kyi is Keeping a 14 yr Old Political Prisoner in Jail
By Burma Campaign UK

Rakhine State and Kachin Region: BHRN Urges European Union Foreign Ministers to Take Strong Action in Response to Crime Against Humanity in Burma
By Burma Human Rights Network

Statement: Return to Reconciliation and Rebuilding in Myanmar
By Charles Cardinal Bo, Archbishop of Yangon

EU Foreign Ministers Urged to Pressure Burmese Authorities to End Crimes Against Humanity Against Rohingya
By Christian Solidarity Worldwide

A Supporting Statement to Karen Organizations (USA) Gathering in Washington DC
By Ei Tu Hta Internally Displaced Person Supporting Committee

Karen Organization (USA) မွ ၀ါရွင္တန္ဒီစီတြင္ ျပဳလုပ္က်င္းပသည့္ ဆႏၵေဖာ္ထုတ္ပြအဲား ႀကိဳဆိုေထာက္ခံျခင္း
By Ei Tu Hta Internally Displaced Person Supporting Committee

Myanmar: Release 14-Year-Old Ethnic Ta’ang Boy Wrongfully Convicted, Allegedly Tortured
By Fortify Rights

Rohingya Crisis: 10 Principles for Protecting Refugees
By Human Rights Watch

APEC/ASEAN: Prioritize Rohingya Crisis
By Human Rights Watch

International Campaign for the Rohingya (Malaysia) Petitions Petronas to withdraw from Myanmar
By International Campaign for the Rohingya

Letter of Support to Our Karen Brothers and Sisters Gathering today at the White House for the US Government to Continue Stand with Karen People
By Karen Community in Norway

Press Release to Counter the Burma Embassy Statement
By Karen Organization of the United States of America

Karen Peace Support Network: Statement in Support of Karen People Gathering in Washington D.C
By Karen Peace Support Network

Beyond Boundaries: People’s Solidarity for a Just, Equitable and Humane Southeast Asia – Delivering Speech by Khin Ohmar, A Chair of the Advisory Board of Progressive Voice
By  Khin Ohmar, A Chair of the Advisory Board of Progressive Voice

KWO Statement in Support of Karen Day in Washington DC
By Karen Women’s Organization

First Results of Family Counting in Bangladesh Find every Third Refugee Household Vulnerable
By The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees

အသက္ ၁၄ ႏွစ္အရြယ္ မုိင္းခ်ိဳမင္းေထြးကုိ ေထာင္ဒဏ္ ၂ ႏွစ္ ခ်မွတ္လုိက္သည့္အေပၚ တအာင္းေက်ာင္းသားႏွင့္ လူငယ္မ်ားအဖဲြ႔၏ သေဘာထားထုတ္ျပန္ခ်က္

By Ta’ang Student and Youth Union

UN Experts Urge ASEAN Summit to Address Regional Human Rights Concerns
By The UN experts, Annalisa Ciampi, Agnes Callamard, Michel Forst and Yanghee Lee

UN Security Council Calls on Myanmar to End Excessive Military Force in Rakhine state
By UN News Centre

Shouting their Pain Out Loud: Women Activists Decry Sexual Violence in ASEAN after 50 Years
By Women’s Legal and Human Rights Bureau

reports

Reports

ENAC News Brief No. 24: The 7th DPN-PC Meeting – Signing of the NCA Unlikely to Be Imminent
By Ethnic Nationalities Affairs Center

Ten Principles for Protecting Refugees and Internally Displaced People Arising from Burma’s Rohingya Crisis
By Human Rights Watch


Progressive Voice is a participatory, rights-based policy research and advocacy organization that was born out of Burma Partnership. Burma Partnership officially ended its work on October 10, 2016 transitioning to a rights-based policy research and advocacy organization called Progressive Voice. For further information, please see our press release “Burma Partnership Celebrates Continuing Regional Solidarity for Burma and Embraces the Work Ahead for Progressive Voice.

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