Wed 5 Sep 2012
Filed under: Inside Burma,News,Religion
Buddhist monks in Mandalay – for the third day – marched on Tuesday in support of the deportation of Muslim minority Rohingya, prompting concerns of international rights groups, some of whom have called on Aung San Suu Kyi to speak out on the issue.
Unlike Burma’s 2007 “Saffron Revolution” marches, the monks are now supporting remarks made by Burma’s President Thein Sein, calling for the UN to find third countries that would accept the Rohingyas, who largely live in Rakhine State and western Burma.
Human Rights Watch Deputy Director for Asia Phil Robertson said the monks’ moral authority raises the stakes in the sectarian tensions, in an article published by Voice of America (VOA) on Wednesday.
“The fact that these monks just several years ago were protesting for democracy and human rights, and are today now protesting for exclusion and potential deportation of a particular ethnic group causes some concern that the government in Burma may in fact listen to these kinds of voices,” he told VOA.
Some international groups have called for Aung San Suu Kyi to take a strong stand on the Rohingya issue, to help clarify the stakes. She has been criticized by some international groups for not speaking up enough for the Rohingya, despite a campaign promise to support reconciliation with ethnic minorities.
“I think that she should put her weight behind the issue,” said Robertson. “You know, this is the time to do it. This is the time to step up and demonstrate leadership. And, we hope she will do it.”
Monk Ashin Kawmala of the Mahamuni monastery told Radio Free Asia that Tuesday’s protest was an important way for the monks, who are not allowed to vote, to act as a political force.
“We monks in Burma do not have the right to vote, and it is not right that [we] do not have the right to do anything at all,” he said. “None of the NGOs [non-governmental organizations] in the world is larger than the Buddhist community. So we came to demonstrate to express that.”
This week’s protests came about three months after ethnic violence erupted between the Rohingyas and ethnic Buddhists in western Burma’s Rakhine State that left scores of people dead and tens of thousands displaced.
Monks who protested on Tuesday shouted slogans and carried banners reading, “Protect Our Motherland,” “Protect Rakhine State,” and “This is Our Land.”
Thein Sein’s call to deport the Rohingyas, who have lived in Burma for generations, was swiftly rejected by the UN refugee agency.
Robertson said that the international community needs to see the Rohingya issue as the first test case for a multi-ethnic Burma.
Burma has 135 legally recognized minorities under a 1982 citizenship law that left out the Rohingya, who are stateless. An estimated 800,000 live in Burma.