US says Myanmar should give citizenship to Rohingya Muslims

Obama says Myanmar has to end discrimination against Rohingya if it wants to succeed in its transition to democracy

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

The United States has increased pressure on Myanmar amid the migrant crisis in southeast Asia, calling on the government to treat Rohingya Muslims as citizens, just hours before President Barack Obama warned Myanmar to end discrimination against them.

Washington also urged Myanmar's leaders, especially democracy activist and Nobel Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, to speak up against the human rights abuses in the country, which they believe is the root cause of the "boat people" crisis.

Myanmar does not recognise its 1.1 million-strong Rohingya minority as citizens, rendering them effectively stateless. Many have fled the apartheid-like conditions of the country's Rakhine state.

US Assistant Secretary of State Anne Richard told reporters in Jakarta that "Rohingyas need to be treated as citizens of Burma" using the country's former name, and added, "They need to have identity cards and passports that make clear they are as much citizens of Burma as anyone else."

A US official said she witnessed "one of the most oppressive atmospheres" in Myanmar's Rakhine state, but affirmed that no sanctions over the issue are on the table yet.

She also called Myanmar leaders to speak up on human rights and the Rohingya plight, saying "the boats are not going to wait until December - the people on the boats need help right now."

Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader the Dalai Lama has already called on fellow Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi to speak up for Myanmar's long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims as their plight is in the spotlight once again.  

Aung San Suu Kyi has been criticised for her silence on the issue for a long time, especially following Buddhist attacks on Rohingya in 2012 which killed hundreds.

Obama also said on Monday that Myanmar needed to end discrimination against the Rohingya people during a White House meeting with young Asian leaders.

"We were talking earlier about what’s required for Myanmar to succeed. I think one of the most important things is to put an end to discrimination against people because of what they look like or what their faith is. And the Rohingya have been discriminated against significantly, and that’s part of the reason they’re fleeing," Obama said.

The American president said if he were Rohingya, he would like to live where he was born. He also thanked Malaysia and Indonesia to help thousands of desperate people stranded at sea.

"But I’d want to make sure that my government was protecting me, and that people were treating me fairly," he said. "And that’s why it’s so important I think, as part of the democratic transition, to take very seriously this issue of how the Rohingya are treated."

Many of the more than 4,000 migrants who have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Myanmar since the Thai government launched a crackdown on people-smuggling gangs are Rohingya escaping persecution. UN estimates that around 2,000 people are still at sea.

TRTWorld and agencies