The orders are clear: the Rohingya won’t be called ‘Rohingya’ in Aung San Suu Kyi’s Myanmar.
After the Lady herself told a United Nations official this week that her government would not be using the term to describe persecuted Muslims in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state, state media has reportedly been ordered to avoid it.
Instead, the group, most of who identify as Rohingya, should be called the diplomatically convenient ‘Muslim community in Rakhine state’, according to a letter from the Ministry of Information dated June 16.
“We submitted the phrase ‘Muslim community in Rakhine’ to the United Nations, and we will continue using it in the Burmese language in Myanmar,” Myo Myint Aung, deputy permanent secretary at the ministry of information, told Radio Free Asia with no trace of irony.
It was sent around the time of a visit by Yanghee Lee, the UN’s special envoy on the situation of human rights in Myanmar. She will stay in the country through July 2.
In a meeting on Monday in the capital Naypyitaw, Suu Kyi reportedly told Lee that the new government would avoid using the term Rohingya.
Many of the country’s Buddhist majority refuse to employ the word to describe people they call ‘Bengali’, or illegal migrants from Bangladesh.
But many of the so-called ‘Bengali’ can trace their heritage in Myanmar back several generations and possess documents to prove it.
More than 100,000 Rohingya have been confined to internal displacement camps, denied work and freedom of movement, since violent clashes with Buddhists in 2012.
Meanwhile, the effort at a vocabulary compromise has seemingly failed already. The hardline Arakan National Party stepped in to express dismay over the benign description because it points to a wider acceptance. It will continue using ‘Bengali,’ Radio Free Asia reported.
“We released this statement because the government asked media to use the phrase ‘Muslim community in Rakhine state,’ while Muslims are being given the national verification cards,” ANC vice chairwoman Aye Nu Sein told Radio Free Asia.
Suu Kyi’s government is giving out ‘green cards’ that let some people take a test applying for citizenship verification.
“We feel that the government is giving favorable treatment to Muslims so they can easily become citizens,” she was quoted as saying.
“All Rakhine people are unhappy about this.”