Pope Francis swoops in to defend oppressed Rohingyas


VATICAN: Pope Francis has issued a strong defence of the right of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims to “live their faith”, and criticised the country’s government for their persecution campaign. In a stinging attack on the Burmese regime, the Pope said the Rohingyas have been tortured and killed “simply because they want to live their culture and their Muslim faith”.


Burma denies carrying out atrocities against the Muslim minority, consisting of around 1.2 million people in the northern Rakhine state who have been refused citizenship of the country.

Pope Francis made his comments during an unprepared section of his weekly address. He appeared to be referring to a UN rights office “flash report”, issued last week, detailing allegations of abuse, rape and murder of Rohingyas at the hands of the Burmese military.


The government in Burma has severely restricted access to the state where the persecution of Rohingyas is allegedly taking place, meaning it is difficult to verify any reports coming out of region.

But the UN has previously dubbed the Rohingyas as “the most oppressed people on Earth”.

The UN’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) has been forced to document the allegations by speaking to Rohingyas who have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh, as there is no way of assessing the ground situation. Such was the urgency of the situation that the OHCHR had to rush out a report without completing all its planned research.

Linnea Arvidsson, one of the four UN workers who interviewed Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh, told The Independent last week that she had never before seen such a “shocking” situation.


“I’ve never encountered a situation like this, where you do 204 interviews and every single person you speak with has a traumatic story, whether their house was burnt, or they were raped or a relative had been killed or taken away,” said Ms Arvidsson.

“In many cases we were the first people, other than their close family, who these people had spoken to. They would break down. Women and even grown men would be crying.

“The women cried when they spoke of being raped, or seeing their children being killed. Men cried when they related how their houses had been burnt, and their concerns over how they would now be able to support their families.”

“It’s very rare for there to be such a high prevalence of violence. And when you think we spoke to just 204 people of a total of 88,000 who have fled the area, it’s really scary to think of the total numbers.”

In his Wednesday address, Pope Francis also repeated his appeal for people to build bridges of understanding instead of walls. He said: “In the social and civil context as well, I appeal not to create walls but to build bridges. To not respond to evil with evil. To defeat evil with good, the offense with forgiveness.”

The Pope dedicated his catechism lesson to the general Christian precepts of hope and forgiveness in forging peace.

“A Christian would never say ‘you will pay for that.’ Never. That is not a Christian gesture. An offense you overcome with forgiveness. To live in peace with everyone.”



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