Title Title
Avoiding the word "Rohingya" started before Pope Francis Avoiding the word 'Rohingya' is a common diplomatic concession
Summary Summary
The Pope is the latest figure to be faced with the ethical dilemma of acknowledging the Rohingya as a distinct people.  Pope Francis is just the latest to face the dilemma of acknowledging the Rohingya as a distinct people
Highlights Highlights
Content Content
<span style="font-weight: 400;">When Pope Francis visited Myanmar this week, he failed to do what he </span><a href="http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/08/27/pope_francis_appeal_for_end_to_violence_against_rohingya/1333091"><span style="font-weight: 400;">has done in the past</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">: use the word “Rohingya” when condemning the military’s campaign in Rakhine State. </span>  <strong>When Pope Francis visited Myanmar this week, he did not do what he <a href="http://en.radiovaticana.va/news/2017/08/27/pope_francis_appeal_for_end_to_violence_against_rohingya/1333091">has done in the past</a></strong><span style="font-weight: 400;"><strong>: use the word “Rohingya” when condemning the military’s campaign in Rakhine State.</strong> </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400;">The Pope </span><a href="https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2017/nov/28/pope-francis-catholics-rohingya"><span style="font-weight: 400;">has been criticized</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> for not using the word, which avoided conflict with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military who view the Muslim minority as illegal immigrants. Both refuse to use the term </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">"Rohingya." </span>  <span style="font-weight: 400;">The pope </span><a href="https://www.usnews.com/news/world/articles/2017-11-29/pope-preaches-forgiveness-in-first-public-mass-in-myanmar"><span style="font-weight: 400;">has been criticized</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> for not using the word, which avoided conflict with Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the military, who refuse to use the word and view the Muslim minority as illegal immigrants.</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400;">So while Pope Francis’ decision may have disappointed human rights advocates, dodging the word Rohingya is actually common even amongst</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> NGOs and diplomats interested in helping the Muslim minority. </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">When over 600,000 Rohingya refugees have fled conditions of ethnic-cleansing, the fight over rhetoric is often conceded in order to focus on pressing human rights issues. </span>  
The Pope found himself in the same ethical dilemma that many humanitarian groups are faced with: by merely recognizing the existence of a persecuted ethnic group, one risks further alienating the Myanmar government at a time when their cooperation is critical.  The pope found himself in the same dilemma as many humanitarian groups: By merely recognizing the existence of the persecuted ethnic group, one risks alienating the Myanmar government at a time when their cooperation is critical.
<span style="font-weight: 400;">An example of this issue of semantics can be seen when China’s foreign minister Wang Yi referred to the current refugee crisis in a </span><a href="http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/wjbzhd/t1511957.shtml"><span style="font-weight: 400;">written statement</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> “</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">The problem of the "Rohingya" has a long history and includes complex factors such as history, ethnicity and religion.” </span>  <span style="font-weight: 400;">Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi recognized the semantic issue in a </span><a href="http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/wjbzhd/t1511957.shtml"><span style="font-weight: 400;">written statement recently</span></a>:<span style="font-weight: 400;"> “</span><span style="font-weight: 400;">The problem of "Rohingya" has a long history and includes complex factors such as history, ethnicity and religion.” </span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">Wang is <a href="http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/wjbzhd/t1512004.shtml">attempting to get Myanmar</a> to accept and protect the Rohingya refugees that fled.</span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">Before the mass exodus of 600,000 in August, </span><a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-migrants/around-25000-rohingya-left-myanmar-camps-in-past-year-u-n-idUSKCN0WN16W"><span style="font-weight: 400;">roughly 145,000 Rohingya</span></a> <span style="font-weight: 400;">were isolated in refugee camps in northern Rakhine State. Humanitarian organizations avoided the word to retain access to Rohingya communities in need of aid. In these camps, the Rohingya were </span><a href="http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51460#.Wh73T7Q-fVo"><span style="font-weight: 400;">prevented from leaving</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, and only a handful of organizations were permitted into these <a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/21/burma-aid-blocked-rakhine-state">blocked compounds</a>.</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> </span>
<span style="font-weight: 400;">Foreign Minister Yi is <a href="http://www.fmprc.gov.cn/web/wjbzhd/t1512004.shtml">attempting to get Myanmar</a> to accept and protect the Rohingya refugees that fled. His use of quotation marks for the Muslim minority, however, reflect the sensitivity around the word. </span> Aid groups recognize the sensitivity of the issue and avoid the provocation that could result from one word, said <span style="font-weight: 400;">Matthew Smith, co-founder of the advocacy group <a href="http://www.fortifyrights.org/">Fortify Rights.</a> He discussed the issue with <em>WikiTribune</em> by email.</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400;">But the decision to not say Rohingya started before the current refugee crisis, which has resulted in more Rohingya living outside of Myanmar than inside the country. </span>  
<span style="font-weight: 400;">Before the mass exodus in August, </span><a href="https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-migrants/around-25000-rohingya-left-myanmar-camps-in-past-year-u-n-idUSKCN0WN16W"><span style="font-weight: 400;">Roughly 145,000 Rohingya,</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> in 2016, were isolated in refugee camps in Northern Rakhine State. Even then, humanitarian organizations avoided the term Rohingya, this time in order to retain access to Rohingya communities in need of aid. In these camps, the Rohingya were </span><a href="http://www.un.org/apps/news/story.asp?NewsID=51460#.Wh73T7Q-fVo"><span style="font-weight: 400;">prevented from leaving</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">, and only a handful of humanitarian organizations were permitted into these enclosures, </span><a href="https://www.hrw.org/news/2016/10/21/burma-aid-blocked-rakhine-state"><span style="font-weight: 400;">many were blocked</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;">. Under these conditions, using the word Rohingya can seem like a needless provocation. </span>   
<span style="font-weight: 400;">"The Rohingya are a conversation stopper with Myanmar authorities. Over the years a number of aid groups, including UN agencies, privately used the term "Bengali" in reference to Rohingya while speaking with the authorities. We don't condone that but we understand the difficult environment in which aid groups are working,” Matthew Smith from Co-Founder of <a href="http://www.fortifyrights.org/">Fortify Rights</a>, a human rights advocacy group, told WikiTribune. </span>  
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">"The Rohingya are a conversation stopper with Myanmar authorities," he wrote. "Over the years a number of aid groups, including UN agencies, privately used the term "Bengali" in reference to Rohingya while speaking with the authorities. </span>
  <span style="font-weight: 400;">"We don't condone that but we understand the difficult environment in which aid groups are working."</span>
<span style="font-weight: 400;">These camps were essentially open-air detention centers. Under the notorious 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya are not recognized as a native people of Myanmar, but illegal immigrants The government commonly refers to them as Bengali, a reference to them illegally immigrating from Bangladesh during the British colonial era. <strong>(<a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2017/10/19/asia/analysis-why-rohingya-are-worlds-most-persecuted-minority/3736/">Read More</a> on Rohingya's immigration status)</strong></span>  Under the 1982 Citizenship Law, the Rohingya are not recognized as a native people of Myanmar, but illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, which is why the government commonly refers to them as Bengali. (<a href="https://www.wikitribune.com/story/2017/10/19/asia/analysis-why-rohingya-are-worlds-most-persecuted-minority/3736/">Read More</a> on Rohingya's immigration status)
<a href="https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/29/pope-francis-disappoints-rohingya-by-failing-to-condemn-persecution"><span style="font-weight: 400;">The Guardian reports</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that bishops in Myanmar, who represent over 600,000 Catholics, requested that Pope Francis not bring up the Rohingya publicly. Though there were some in the church </span><span style="font-weight: 400;">who</span><span style="font-weight: 400;"> encouraged the head of the Vatican to conflict Suu Kyi and the military in private over the treatment of the Rohingya.</span>  
<span style="font-weight: 400;">The word Rohingya has proved to be so provocative, that even advocates of the Rohingya are willing to sacrifice mentioning the ethnic group in hopes of achieving tangible improvements for those who belong to it. The challenge will be securing the safety of the Rohingya in a country that does not acknowledge their existence. </span>  
  <a href="https://amp.theguardian.com/world/2017/nov/29/pope-francis-disappoints-rohingya-by-failing-to-condemn-persecution"><span style="font-weight: 400;"><em>The Guardian</em> reports</span></a><span style="font-weight: 400;"> that bishops in Myanmar, who represent more than <a href="http://The Catholic Church in Burma is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope in Rome. There are around 450,000 Catholics in Burma - approximately 1% of the total population. The country is divided into sixteen dioceses including three archdioceses. Each of the archdioceses is also a metropolitan.">450,000 Catholics</a>, requested that Pope Francis avoid the word. </span>
  &nbsp;
Categories Categories
  Myanmar
Article type Article type
analysis analysis
Tags Tags
Author byline Author byline
No No
Has hero Has hero
No No
Hero Alignment Hero Alignment
No No
Hero Image URL Hero Image URL
None None
Featured Image URL Featured Image URL
  https://s3-eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/wikitribune-uploads-master/2017/11/Pope_Francis_Malacanang_7.jpg
Sources Sources

Subscribe to our newsletter and be the first to collaborate on our developing articles:

WikiTribune Open menu Close Search Like Back Next Open menu Close menu Play video RSS Feed Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Reddit Follow us on Instagram Follow us on Youtube Connect with us on Linkedin Email us