On the backdrop of more than 15,000 Rohingya having fled Burma in the past month heading to Thailand and Malaysia for sanctuary, President Obama arrives into Naypitaw on Thursday (13th Novemeber 2014) to begin his second round of diplomatic talks with the Burmese government. It is widely anticipated that Obama will address the Burmese public on Friday who are eager to hear statements of partnership and recognition of the 'democracy' that is Burma.
The reality, however, is a stark difference. Whilst many Western leaders have been flocking around President Thein Sein's fledgling 'democracy' in recent years, countless incidences of human rights violations and state supported discrimination have been evident.
The state census which was conducted over the summer months did not offer a choice for a Rohingya identity, rather the Rohingya were left with a humiliating choice between identifying themselves as 'Bangalis' or as 'aliens' to their own homeland. The consequence of that choice, so say the authorities, is the opportunity for the Rohingya to finally have some sort of state citizenship albeit a second-class citizen as a 'naturalized Bangali' who has lived in Burma for more than two generations. Dr Wakar Uddin, of the Arakan Rohingya Union, the leading Rohingya activists organisation, in his address to UN leaders in September 2014, claimed that the refusal of identity for the Rohingya by the Burmese authorities was clear, concise proof of an ongoing ethnic cleansing.
As cameras roll on world leaders meeting at various summits across the world, we are often addressed by Heads of States who congratulate one another on the ongoing freedom of rights and the democratisation of countries who had been led by despotic leaders. And yet, in 2014, in a country which believes and actively pushes an agenda of a tiered citizenship which is essentially borne out of xenophobia, the self proclaimed 'Leader of the Free World', will visit and rub shoulders with an Administration which promotes the imbalance of ethnicities who are willing to allow mobs to destroy and desecrate swathes of communities simply because of their ethnicity and religion and with a President who deems it ok to claim that the Rohingya should either be put in camps or sent abroad. This is the price of trading geoploitical greed and glory for the so called 'human rights and democracy' which we champion.
The legitimacy of the tiered citizenship has been compared, by many political commentators, to the tiered citizenship that Hitler employed for the Jews; the end game for that policy? The Holocaust.
Without the protection of citizenship, many Rohingya have fled one hell to another. Either they stay put in their home country where they are treated like aliens, abused and restricted of basic human rights, or they pay huge sums to 'agents' who will 'assist' with a migration to another country, typically Malaysia or Thailand. In recent weeks, Restless Beings has been receiving disturbing evidence of a multinational trafficking ring. Not only are the Rohingya paying a fee to the agent, but often that agent will then hold (abuse) them in camps before selling (trafficking) the Rohingya to third countries.
And so we come back to the President of America, the country that is the bastion of 'freedom and equality'. His second trip to Burma presents another opportunity for him to use his influence to encourage the Burmese authorities away from their Rakhine Action Plan. The Rakhine Action Plan sets a timescale for the movement of all Rohingya communities into camps. It also sets about a timeline for those who are willing to accept the race 'Bangali' to apply for second class citizenship. It also outlines the Burmese Governments willingness to spend state money on building permanent camps for the Rohingya. In essence it is a roadmap of apartheid.
Obama's first visit raised some questions over the human rights abuses occurirng in Burma. His second visit must challenge Burma to overcome these human rights issues. It must at least hold Burma to account before he readily agrees trade deals with Burma. He must at the very least #JustSayTheirName - 'Rohingya'
Restless Beings is running a two day campaign which has been creatively designed and led by Unite to End Genocide alongside partners such as Burma Campaign UK and Global Rohingya Centre which aims to pressurise the USA Administration to at the very least call the Rohingya by their name, something which Burma refuses to do. You too can join the campaign. Simply download and print off the attachment or write it down on a piece of paper, get someone to take a picture of you holding the poster and 1) Profile picture it on social media and 2)send it to us on firstname.lastname@example.org - we'll also use it on social media and aim to build up some pressure.