Nobel laureates appeal for end to persecution of Rohingya

Oslo, Norway, May 28, 2015 – A two-day conference focusing on ending the persecution of Burma’s Rohingyas concluded today, with a call from seven Nobel Peace Laureates to describe the Rohingya plight as nothing less than a genocide.

In his pre-recorded address to the conference, Desmond Tutu, leader of South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, called for an end to the slow genocide of the Rohingya.

Tutu’s appeal was amplified by six other fellow Nobel Peace laureates: Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland, Jody Williams from the USA, Tawakkol Karman from Yeman, Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Leymah Gbowee from Liberia, and Adolfo Pérez Esquivel from Argentina. They stated that, “what Rohingyas are facing is a textbook case of genocide in which an entire indigenous community is being systematically wiped out by the Burmese government.”

Philanthropist George Soros drew a parallel between his childhood memories of life in a Jewish ghetto under the Nazi occupation in Hungary and the plight of the Rohingya after visiting a Rohingya area in Sittwe, Myanmar. “In 1944, as a Jew in Budapest, I, too was a Rohingya…The parallels to the Nazi genocide are alarming,” he said, in a pre-recorded address to the Oslo conference.

The meeting was held at the prestigious Norwegian Nobel Institute and Voksenaasen Conference Center in Oslo, Norway. It was attended by Buddhist monks, Christian clergy, and Muslim leaders from Myanmar. Also present were genocide experts, international diplomats, interfaith and human rights leaders. Attendees explored ways to end Myanmar’s systematic persecution of the Rohingya, and to foster communal harmony in Burma.

Addressing the conference, Morten Høglund, the State Secretary of the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, announced his government’s decision to give 10 million Norwegian Kroner ($1.2 million US) in humanitarian assistance to Burma. The participants were dismayed however, as the State Secretary choose not to even mention the word “Rohingya” in his entire speech in an apparent compliance to Myanmar’s government stand.

The conference communiqué urged the Norwegian government to immediately prioritize ending Myanmar’s genocide over its economic interests in Burma, including sizeable investment by Telenor and StatOil.

During the conference, former Prime Minister of Norway Kjell Magne Bondevik conferred on three leading Myanmar monks, who have saved Muslim lives in Burma and opposed Islamophobia, the first-ever “World Harmony Awards” on behalf of the Parliament of the World’s Religions, a 120-year-old interfaith organization. Rev. Seindita, Rev. Withudda, and Rev. Zawtikka, were the three awardees who also chanted Buddhist prayers at the inauguration.

Presenting the awards, the Parliament’s chair, Imam Malik Mujahid said, “These extraordinary monks challenge the widespread perception that all Buddhist monks clamor for violence against the Rohingyas.”

The participants from 16 different countries, including leading Rohingya activists and leaders, as well as genocide scholars, adopted the following statement:

Pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi hadn’t been invited to the event, organized by the Norwegian Burma Committee. During her 15 years under house arrest, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate won admiration for her fiery speeches and scathing criticism of the military regime that ruled Myanmar, or Burma, at the time. Her critics note she is carefully choosing her battles, in part because she has presidential ambitions.

In recent weeks, thousands of Rohingya have fled persecution and landed on the shores of Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand, often abandoned by human traffickers or freed after their families paid ransoms. There are approximately 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims.