New Delhi, Nov 28: Contrary to the expectation, Pope Francis on his much publicised visit to Myanmar stops short of making any explicit reference of Rohingya Muslims; leave alone the condemnation for alleged ethnic cleansing of the community. Although, delivering a keynote lecture on Tuesday Pope called for “respect for each ethnic group”, it was way short of the anticipated remarks from him.
Myanmar has been accused of ethnic cleansing, with 620,000 Rohingya fleeing to Bangladesh since August.
In the speech Pope said: “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.”
The Pope further pointed out that Myanmar’s greatest treasure was its people and that they had “suffered greatly and continue to suffer, from civil conflict and hostilities that have lasted all too long and created deep divisions.”
He further said: “Religious differences need not be a source of division and distrust, but rather a force for unity, forgiveness, tolerance and wise nation-building.”
Yet, as the Pope spoke mostly in general terms, human rights groups were quick to term the speech as disappointing. A BBC report quoted activist, Zubair Ahmad from Kutupalang refugee camp in Bangladesh saying to AFP news agency: “We are very much disappointed that he did not mention the Rohingya crisis.” Amnesty International also said it was “disappointing”- though it did applaud his calls for respect toward all ethnic groups.
Since on an earlier pronouncement the pope had used the term, ‘my Rohingays brothers and Sisters’, it was widely hoped that he will explicitly and unequivocally denounce the atrocities committed against the ethnic minority.
However, Media reports suggest that the Catholic Church in the country had convinced Pope not to mention ‘Rohingaya’, since the term could cause difficulties for Catholics living in Myanmar.
Myanmar’s de facto leader Ms Suu Kyi, unsurprisingly, also avoided naming Rohingya Muslims in her speech. Myanmar government rejects Rohingysa’ claim of one of the country’s ethnic group and called them Bengali, who migrated illegally from Bangladesh.
Still, as after concluding the Myanmar tour, Pope Francis is scheduled to visits Bangladesh to meet Rohingya refugee, it would be tricky to avoid the reference.