Syria is no doubt the biggest humanitarian emergency of our time, but there are people in other parts of the world who face the same level of atrocities in their countries – only worse because they do not get the same amount of attention from the international community to help ease their pain.
Case in point: Ever since the genocide against Rohingya Muslims started in 2012, nothing substantial has been done – or even said – by local or world leaders to put an end to the bloodshed that has claimed dozens of lives and displaced more than 140,000 people in the South Asian country.
And now, after more than two years of pleading and campaigning to almost no avail, the persecuted people and their supporters have turned to President Barack Obama for help.
So, what is it that they want him to do exactly?
“Just Say Their Name.”
The U.S.-based activist organization United to End Genocide launched a new campaign called #JustSayTheirName, which is designed to encourage Obama – who stops by Myanmar this month – to address the Rohingya issue and thereby let the entire world know about their plight.
The movement is inspired by United Nations Special Rapporteur for Myanmar Yanghee Lee’s recent decision to use the word “Rohingya” in a speech to the General Assembly on Oct. 28. It is widely believed that governments of the world are succumbing to pressure by the Burmese President Thein Sein to no longer use the term when referring to the ethnic minority.
“I am acutely aware of the sensitivity around the use of the term that is not recognized by the [Burmese] government,” she said. “I am concerned about the Rohingyas being required to identify themselves as ‘Bengali’ and if they do not they are excluded from the citizenship verification process that is being rolled out in Arakan state.”
Taking advantage of Obama’s visit to South East Asia this week, activists and supporters all over the world are urging the U.S. president to do the same thing as Lee.
Though it’s quite understandable that it won’t make much of a difference, advocates of the campaign deem it vital nonetheless. According to them, it could at least mark the beginning of something really important by the leader of a nation considered the world champion of human rights.
Although U.S. officials have previously avoided talking about it, this year the situation has slightly been better in terms of acknowledging and highlighting the violence.
During his Asian tour earlier in April, Obama warned that Myanmar would not be able to progress if its Muslims remained oppressed. He even extended economic sanctions against the country in May, citing concerns over “ongoing conflict and human rights abuses in ethnic minority areas, particularly in Rakhine State.”
Moreover, the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee urged the Burmese authorities to take immediate and effective steps to put an end to the widespread human rights abuses.
The committee’s chairman, Robert Menendez (D-NJ), in a letter to Thein Sein, reiterated previous concerns over Myanmar’s persecution of its Muslims and how it could affect the relations between the countries.
“I urgently request that your government take immediate steps to end the persecution of the Rohingya, ensure the security of international aid groups and facilitate their immediate access to Rakhine state,” Menendez wrote.
He added the Rohingyas were not just facing massacres but also the destruction of their villages and homes and confinement in “squalid camps that essentially function as detention facilities.”
While it looks like the White House has finally woken up and started paying attention toward perhaps the most neglected ongoing genocide in the world, the more important question is will it do more than just paying lip-service to widespread abuses?