The government of Burma/Myanmar has been called one of the most repressive in the world; human rights organizations have consistently it for violations of human rights. With the formation of a new government in August 2011 and the freeing from house arrest of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was subsequently elected to parliament in April 2012, the world has applauded the government's moves toward democracy. Nonetheless, the situation for Burma's ethnic minorities remains dire and has attracted little notice. Probably no group has suffered more than the Rohingya, a Muslim people who live in the Arakan region of western Myanmar/Burma and speak a dialect of Bengali, and who are one of the world's most persecuted peoples. Successive Burmese governments have discriminated against the Rohingya, who they assert are foreigners with no right to live in Burma, a view shared by much of the Arakan population. This has been state policy since 1982, when a citizenship law passed by the then-military government excluded the Rohingya from Burmese citizenship, effectively rendering them stateless. Rohingya are not allowed to travel without official permission, are banned from owning land, and are required to sign a commitment not to have more than two children. Neighboring Bangladesh and Thailand have refused to allow Rohingya refugees into their countries; Thailand has gone so far as to tow the Rohingya out to sea. In June 2012, tensions between the Rohingya and Rakhine peoples erupted into violence, as Rakhine and Rohingya mobs attacked homes, shops, and houses of worship. Both groups perpetrated violence, but it is noteworthy that Buddhist monks urged the Rakhine to attack the Rohingya and expel them from the country, and Burmese security forces joined in those attacks. The President of Myanmar said that the problem could only be solved if some other country agreed to take in the Rohingya; an entire people was threatened with extinction.
Global response to this crisis has been muted, partly because focus on Burma has revolved around Aung San Suu Kyi and the government's moves toward democratization, but also because there are contradictory allegations regarding the Rohingya themselves. Are they a fairly recent community of migrants, as some have alleged, or are they a community with roots that go back a thousand years, as others have stated? Are the Rohingya desperate victims whose very existence is threatened, or are they 'Islamist extremist terrorists and illegal immigrants from Bangladesh,' as claimed by Democracy for Burma (http://democracyforburma.wordpress.com/)?
This forum seeks to answer those questions.
Live streaming of the event will be shown on a big screen in Chicago at the Gallery of CAIR-Chicago, 28 E. Jackson Blvd., Suite 1700. It can be viewed online at: http://www.ustream.tv/channel/csames-events.
For program, click here.