- Pope Francis refrained from mentioning the Rohingya Muslims directly in his visit
- Instead, he referred to the rights of all of Myanmar's ethnic groups
- The local Catholic church had advised him against using the term "Rohingya"
- He praised Suu Kyi’s efforts towards reconciliation after decades of military rule
Pope Francis on Tuesday called for respect for the rights of all of Myanmar’s ethnic groups without mentioning persecuted Rohingya Muslims directly.
The pope’s visit to Myanmar had been shrouded in speculation over whether he would refer to Rohingya directly following comments by the leader of the country’s small Roman Catholic community that he should not.
Francis made no mention of the Rohingya or the crackdown in the western state of Rakhine that has been condemned by the U.N. and U.S. as “ethnic cleansing”.
In a speech in capital Nay Pyi Taw to State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi, officials and foreign diplomats, he referred to the continued suffering of Myanmar’s people “from civil conflict and hostilities”.
“The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group -- none excluded -- to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good,” he said.
The pope arrived in Myanmar on Monday amid pressure for him to address the persecution of Rohingya. More than 620,000 refugees have fled the region in the wake of a brutal military crackdown.
During the crackdown, security forces and Buddhist mobs have killed men, women, and children, looted homes and torched Rohingya villages, according to refugee accounts.
Speaking in September, Bangladeshi Foreign Minister Abul Hasan Mahmood Ali said around 3,000 Rohingya had been killed in the operation.
Rohingya have faced discrimination in the predominantly Buddhist country for decades. They are deprived of citizenship and unable to access basic services.
Prior to his visit, the local Catholic Church publicly urged Francis to avoid using the word “Rohingya,” seemingly out of concern that it would have negative repercussions for Catholics.
Francis has previously prayed for “our Rohingya brothers and sisters.” His avoidance of the term was seen by many as a retreat from his earlier support for the oppressed and marginalized around the world.
Many in Myanmar refuse to identify the Muslims of Rakhine as Rohingya, claiming they are migrants from Bangladesh even though they have lived there for generations.
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The pope praised Suu Kyi’s efforts towards reconciliation after decades of military rule.
In her speech, Suu Kyi referred to the “situation in the Rakhine” and thanked those who had supported the government.
Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch’s regional deputy director, said he hoped the pope would use the term during Mass on Wednesday.
“The pope missed an opportunity to reinforce his previous messages that affirmed the rights of the Rohingya to self-identify and used the name that they had chosen for themselves,” he said.
“The Rohingya have been stripped of so many things, but their name should never be one of them.”
Kyaw Min, chairman of the Democracy and Human Rights Party and an ethnic Rohingya, said before the visit that he did not expect Francis to refer to Rohingya directly.
“I don’t think he will use the Rohingya word while he visits the country,” he said. “That will make most people here angry. I also think he should not use the word in public.
“But I wish he uses our ethnic name in private meetings with Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and [military chief] Min Aung Hlaing. If he does that, that will have some positive effect because he is a powerful person and a great leader in the Roman Catholic world.”
Rohingya, described by the U.N. as the world's most persecuted people, have faced heightened fears of attack since dozens were killed in communal violence in 2012.
In a five-month security operation launched last year, the U.N. documented mass gang rapes, killings -- including of infants and young children -- brutal beatings and disappearances committed by security personnel.
In a report, U.N. investigators said such violations may have constituted crimes against humanity.
The international community has called on the Myanmar government and military to immediately halt atrocities and allow Rohingya to return home safely.
Meanwhile in the U.K., Oxford City Council on Monday evening stripped Suu Kyi of the Freedom of the City of Oxford, awarded to her in 1997.
This article has been adapted from its original source.
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