YANGON: Myanmar officials must refer to the oppressed Rohingya Muslim minority as “people who believe in Islam” rather than by their name, according to a letter seen by AFP Tuesday (Jun 21), as a UN rights envoy prepares to visit the benighted group.
Buddhist nationalists bitterly oppose the use of the term Rohingya to describe the roughly million-strong minority – most of whom live in strife-torn western Rakhine State.
Hardliners instead label the stateless group ‘Bengalis’, shorthand for illegal migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, endorsing the government’s refusal to grant the majority of them citizenship.
Scores of Rohingya have died in sectarian violence since 2012 and tens of thousands more have since languished in squalid displacement camps in western Rakhine State.
The order by the Information Ministry attempts to sidestep the controversy that surrounds the identity of the Rohingya and head off disquiet during an ongoing visit by United Nations Special Rapporteur on Myanmar Yanghee Lee.
“Rohingya or Bengali shall not be used,” during Lee’s visit, the letter said.
“Instead, ‘people who believe in Islam in Rakhine State’ shall be used,” it added.
The letter, dated June 16 and labelled ‘secret’, added ethnic Rakhine should be referred to “as ‘people who believe in Buddhism’ in Rakhine State”.
UN envoy Lee is expected to visit Rakhine later this week.
Last year her trip was marred by a hardline Buddhist monk – Wirathu – who called her a “whore” for criticising the treatment of the Rohingya.
On Monday the UN warned that ongoing violations against the Rohingya could amount to crimes against humanity.
In a report the UN human rights office said it had found “a pattern of gross violations against the Rohingya… (which) suggest a widespread or systematic attack… in turn giving rise to the …