EU parliament urges Myanmar to protect Rohingya minority

Myanmar: Rohingya face a humanitarian crisis. [European Commission DG ECHO/Flickr]

The European Parliament on Thursday (7 July) urged Myanmar to end what it termed “brutal repression” and “systematic persecution” against the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.

Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi insisted in May that her new government was determined to address deep hatreds in western Rakhine State, where tens of thousands of Rohingya are confined to squalid displacement camps after waves of deadly unrest with local Buddhists in 2012.

But Kyi and her administration have been widely criticised for not speaking up sufficiently for the group in a country where nationalists even refuse to use the term “Rohingya,” which Suu Kyi herself has maintained risks inflaming tensions.

Nationalists in a country where radical Buddhism is on the rise label the group “Bengalis,” casting Myanmar’s more than one million Rohingya as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

The European Parliament showed its deep concern by passing a resolution calling for the issue to be urgently addressed.

“Parliament reiterates its deep concern about the plight of Rohingya in South-East Asia. This ethno-religious Muslim minority of about one million people is one of the world’s most persecuted minorities, officially stateless since the 1982 Burmese Citizenship Law and unwanted by the Myanmar authorities and by neighbouring countries,” the assembly said in a resolution that decried the Rohingya’s “extremely vulnerable situation”.

European lawmakers said Myanmar must “as a matter of urgency ensure free and unimpeded access to Rakhine State, where some 120,000 Rohingya remain in more than 80 internal displacement camps, for humanitarian actors, the United Nations, international human rights organisations, journalists and other international observers”.

They also called on the south Asian country to “condemn unequivocally all incitement to racial or religious hatred and implement specific measures and policies to prevent direct and indirect discrimination against the Rohingya in the future.”

A recent UN report expressed similar concern, citing denial of citizenship, forced labour and sexual assault of Rohingya.

Nobel peace laureate Suu Kyi’s pro-democracy party took power in April, ending nearly half a century of military domination.

She also is a winner of the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought, which the EU awarded her in 1990 and picked up only three years ago following 15 years of house arrest.

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From 1988 until 2011, Maynmar - also known as Burma - was ruled by a military junta that suspended the country's constitution and turned it into on of the world's most impoverished nations.

The European Union slapped sanctions on Burma in 2007, in response to a violent crackdown on protesters, led by monks, who were complaining about a rising fuel prices.

The United States, the European Union and others have gradually loosened restrictions on Myanmar since the end of military rule in 2011.

The gruadual thawing of bilateral relations with the EU culminated on 5 March 2013 with the first visit to Brussels of Myanmar President Thein Sein. On this occasion, the European Commission praised the "historical changes" taking place in Burma and announced a package of €150 million to support the country's democratic reform ahead of a national election in 2015.

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The European Commission praised the 'historical changes' taking place in Burma and pledged more EU development money and a bilateral investment agreement to mark the first visit to Brussels yesterday (5 March) of Myanmar President Thein Sein.

The November 2015 elections were won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy.

It was hailed as a success, with EU foreign affairs chief Federica Mogherini welcoming the vote as a “historic milestone on the road to democracy”.

But Suu Kyi has also faced international censure for failing to speak up for the country’s embattled Muslim population – especially the ethnic Rohingya in restive Rakhine state.

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