Myanmar leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi called on the United States not to use the term ‘Rohingya’ when referring to a persecuted Muslim population in the country, reports the New York Times.
Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s spokesman U Kyaw Zay Ya said that during a meeting with the United States ambassador, the leader of Myanmar’s government advised against using the term to describe the population, who have long faced persecution at the hands of extremist groups from the majority Buddhist population, and are denied citizenship and the right to vote.
A recent report from the International State Crime Initiative at the Queen Mary University of London found that there was substantial evidence that the Rohinyga population are facing state-sponsored genocide.
“We won’t use the term Rohingya because Rohingya are not recognized as among the 135 official ethnic groups,” said the foreign ministry official, adding that “our position is that using the controversial term does not support the national reconciliation process and solving problems.”
US Ambassador Scot Marciel reportedly stoked controversy when using the term in a statement last month after a group of Rohingya Muslims died after their boat capsized in Rakhine state.
Mr Marciel responded to the controversy by stating “we would call them what they want to be called.”
“It’s not a political decision; it’s just a normal practice,” he added.
The comments from Ms Aung San Suu Kyi’s office were criticised by Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch who said “It’s dismaying that the new N.L.D.-led government is continuing this wrongheaded effort to police the language of Yangon-based diplomats about the Rohingya”.
However they found praise from the nationalist Buddhist community in the country, with leader of the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, U Thaw Bar Ka, stating “It’s really good”.
“We don’t want that word because they are not our nationality,” he said.
“And now I read the news that the Foreign Ministry agrees with us… At first, I thought the new government would be useless on this issue.”
See more from the New York Times here.