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December 12, 2017

Wilberforce A!ert: Violence Threatening Myanmar’s Ethnic and Religious Rohingya Population

Perhaps you have read the heartbreaking story in the New York Times about Rajuma, a Rohingya Muslim from Myanmar (Burma). Her baby was ripped from her arms and thrown into a fire. She was then gang-raped by government soldiers who had followed her as she fled from her burning village. She has since sought refuge in a camp in Bangladesh.

Since late August, more than 620,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled their homes into neighboring Bangladesh to escape killing, raping, and violence conducted by Myanmar’s military. The military promised that such campaigns are retaliation for an attack carried out by Rohingya militants. However, the U.S. State Department has declared these actions as ethnic cleansing. Recently, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights remarked that such actions by the military were “effectively erasing all signs of memorable landmarks in the geography of the Rohingya landscape and memory in such a way that a return to their lands would yield nothing but a desolate and unrecognizable terrain.”

Myanmar is a predominately Buddhist country nestled between its two large neighboring countries of China and India. As a former British colony, Burma gained independence in 1948, but was ruled by military leadership for much of its independence. In 2015, the National League for Democracy won a huge election victory and swore-in the country’s first civilian president in March of 2016. Even with this hopeful change in government, the situation for ethnic and religious minorities in Myanmar remains grim, especially for the Rohingya Muslims.

The Rohingya Muslims have a complicated history in the country. With a population of more than one million, Rohingya are the largest Muslim minority group living within the country. Rohingya have faced tensions with their Buddhist Rakhine neighbors and are often considered as illegals from Bangladesh, despite having lived in Burma for decades. In addition, a Rohingya insurgent group petitioned to include part of Rakhine state into Bangladesh, which only further complicated their relationship with the Myanmar government. In 1982, the Burmese government passed legislation that effectively stripped most Rohingya of their citizenship and opened up opportunities for continued discrimination and human rights abuses to be perpetrated against the Rohingya with impunity.

With such violence occurring against these religious minorities and the growing humanitarian disaster enveloping both Myanmar and Bangladesh, it is critical that the U.S. quickly confirm the position of the U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom at the State Department. As of now, the Senate has yet to fully confirm Gov. Sam Brownback, whom President Donald Trump nominated in August but Congress must confirm. It is vital that this confirmation process proceed immediately. This will enable leadership to offer strong policy recommendations that specifically address this growing international humanitarian disaster. It is also important that that the U. S. State Department continue to designate Myanmar as a Country of Particular Concern under the International Religious Freedom Act, thereby enabling the U.S. government stronger policy tools such as sanctions to help these victims.

Take Action:

1. Call your Senators and request the swift confirmation of Gov. Sam Brownback as the Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom.

2. Read the Myanmar section in the State Department’s religious freedom report.

3. Continue to pray for those in conflict zones around the world, especially in Myanmar and Bangladesh. 

Keywords: Rohingya,Myanmar,Burma,IRF ambassador,Sam Brownback,21st Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Century Wilberforce Initiative,21 Wilberforce,21CWI

Elisabeth Doherty

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