Myanmar’s parallel government has urged Rohingya to join with them in fighting the military junta, promising to offer justice and citizenship to the persecuted minority.
The statement has been welcomed by rights experts as “an important and notable step forward” in the movement for full rights for the Rohingya, who have faced decades of discrimination and violence in Myanmar.
Despite roots that go back for centuries, Rohingya are widely seen as foreigners in the country and have been denied citizenship under successive governments, including that of Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD). Her government avoided even using the term Rohingya, instead referring to the minority ethnic group as “Muslims in Rakhine state”. In 2019 Aung San Suu Kyi appalled international observers when she traveled to The Hague to defend the military against allegations of a genocide.
In a statement on Thursday, Myanmar’s national unity government, which includes many NLD politicians, said attitudes were changing.
“The entire people of Burma is sympathetic to the plight of the Rohingya as all now experience atrocities and violence perpetrated by the military,” it said.
“The solidarity of the entire people is now at its best. We are confident that we can build a union that meets the needs of all those in the country who have a stake in its future.”
The statement said the NUG would scrap a 1982 citizenship law that denies Rohingya citizenship, and which has effectively rendered them one of the largest stateless populations in the world. Citizenship would instead be based on birth in Myanmar, or birth anywhere to a Myanmar citizen, the NUG said.
The NUG, which was set up after the military coup, also said it was committed to the safe repatriation of Rohingya who have been forced to flee military violence, and promised to “actively seek justice and accountability for all crimes committed by the military against the Rohingya”.
Nearly 900,000 Rohingya refugees remain stuck in squalid, crowded conditions in refugee camps in neighbouring Bangladesh. This includes about 750,000 people who were forced to flee over the border in 2017, when the military launched a genocidal campaign of violence, rape, murder and torching homes.
The NUG, which is seeking international recognition, has faced questions, including from the US, over whether it will recognise the citizenship and rights of Rohingya.
Tun Khin, president of Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK, said the NUG’s statement was a welcome announcement, but that further clarity was needed, including on how the NUG would commit to seeking international justice.
“The NUG must, crucially, recognise that a genocide is taking place against the Rohingya,” he said. “If we can’t face the reality of the past, there is no way that we can build a common future.”
Tom Andrews, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Myanmar, said the NUG’s announcement was “an important and notable step forwards”.
“I am hopeful that today’s policy statement marks an initial, long-deserved though long-denied movement towards peace, justice and security for the Rohingya,” he said in a statement. International governments should increase pressure on the junta, Andrews added, so that such commitments could be transformed by Myanmar’s legitimate representatives into law.
At least 845 people have been killed by the military since it seized power on 1 February, while thousands remain in detention, including Myanmar’s elected politicians.