Twelve Nobel laureates pen letter urging UN to act on Rohingya crisis

Twelve Nobel Prize laureates have written an open letter to the UN Security Council urging it to intervene in the Rohingya crisis in Myanmar.

Hundreds of Rohingya, a predominantly Muslim ethnic minority group, have died since violence erupted just over two weeks ago in the Southeast Asian nation, formerly known as Burma.

Some 370,000 Rohingya civilians have fled across the border to Bangladesh, according to the UN, whose rights chief, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, described the actions by Myanmar’s armed forces as “ethnic cleansing.”

“The world is anxiously waiting to see that (the) UNSC is playing its role to bring end to a humanitarian catastrophe and build peace in the region,” reads the letter, which was also signed by 15 other prominent figures.

The signatories include 10 winners of the Nobel Peace Price, including the youngest-ever, education activist Malala Yousafzai, and Desmond Tutu. Two winners of the Nobel Prize for physiology and medicine also signed the letter, as did British entrepreneur Richard Branson and actor Forest Whitaker.

The letter was written ahead of a Security Council meeting on the issue, tentatively scheduled for Thursday.

“A bold change in approach is needed by (the) United Nations and the international community if there is to be an end to the cycle of violence against the Rohingyas. The government of Myanmar needs to be told that international support and finance is conditional on a major change in policy towards the Rohingya.”

Myanmar had lived under international sanctions since the late 1980s, imposed for rights abuses under the country’s military leadership. Most of those sanctions have been lifted since the government’s transformation into a civilian-led administration. The US lifted all sanctions against the country last year, but kept some restrictions in place.

Give them citizenship, letter says

The country’s treatment of the Rohingya, however, has remained a major blemish on Myanmar’s human-rights record. The Rohingya are stateless and are considered one of the most persecuted peoples in the world.

They have lived in Myanmar for centuries and their ethnic group was recognized by what was then Burma after it gained independence from the British in 1948. The Rohingya were stripped of this recognition in the 1980s, the government arguing that they were Bangladeshi immigrants.

Now the country’s more than 1 million Rohingya live largely without basic rights, most of them in the western state of Rakhine and many in squalid camps.

The letter calls on the Security Council to persuade the Myanmar government to implement a number of recommendations made by the Rakhine Advisory Commission, a body established in 2016 under pressure from the international community.

It urges that pressure be placed on Myanmar to grant the Rohingya citizenship; invite international observers to visit vulnerable areas; invite back the Rohingya who have fled; build camps in Myanmar for the refugees with UN financing and supervision; and ensure political freedom.

“Propaganda and incitement of hatred and all violence, particularly state violence against Rohingyas must stop, discriminatory laws and policies must go,” the letter reads.

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