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Monks involved in oppresion of Rohingya?

by Pilgrim, Petaling Jaya, Malaysia, The Buddhist Channel, Aug 5, 2012

Many of us cringe when we hear news of the Buddhist Rakhine oppression of the Rohingya.  The Buddhist Channel also issued a letter to the monks of Myanmar callng on them "to do the rignt thing."

Letters written to the various news portals indicate that the Rohingya who are viewed in Myanmar as illegal immigrants, have been a source of violent crime and cross border insurgency for decades. While this does not validate any form of violence against an entire community, it indicates that conflicts that have been left to simmer for generations cannot simply be reduced to a short article and blame summarily dispensed.

Human rights law requires that stateless persons should be treated with compassion and efforts should be made to resolve the problem of statelessness. The Myanmar government, for decades dealing with various problems and insurgencies, has apparently not succeeded in doing this. However, no country has a right to tell another who should and who should not be a citizen. The "right to a nationality" is poorly established in international law and there is no global practice that is binding on governments. It is up to the various governments to exercise their discretion in accepting refugees. Muslim countries, including neighbouring Bangladesh, although soundly criticising Myanmar's actions have also not been forthcoming in accepting these refugees. Bangladesh is embarassingly, in a similar position, as it is accused of tacitly supporting the oppression of the Buddhist tribes in the Chittagong Hill Tracts who are being pushed into exile into India. A political solution is needed, not calls for jihad which are just plain idiotic. This is the job for the reformist Myanmar government which now includes the highly respected Aung San Suu Kyi in its ranks.

Many expressed dissapointment that the monks who led the Saffron Revolution are also involved in the oppression. The Young Monks’ Association of Sittwe and Mrauk Oo Monks’ Association have been reported to be two orgamisations which called for the shunning of the Rohingya and are obstructig the distribution of humanitarian aid. There has been no reports of the size nor influence of these organisations, but all the same, such actions appear extreme, at least by Buddhist standards.

However, it is a mistake to view a religious group as a uniform block and it is unfair to paint the entire monastic sangha with the broad brush of blame. It should be borne in mind that Myanmar has almost half a million monks. A significant fraction of this number, most likely the politically aware, marched in the streets of Yangon during the Saffron Revolution. But the majority stayed in the monasteries, aloof from these political spasms. A small number of monks also sided with the government. But just as we applauded those who marched in the Saffron Revlolution, then blame should be directed only at these organisations which support the poor treatment of a minority.


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