Monday, November 19, 2012

Obama Speaks In Burma About Religious Freedom

As part of his trip to Burma (Myanmar), President Obama spoke today at the University of Yangon in Rangoon. (Full text of speech.) His speech included a plea for the country to deal with the ethnic-religious violence faced by the Rohingya Muslim minority, and the persecution of ethnic minority Chin Christians in Kachin state:
And this truth leads me to the third freedom that I want to discuss:  the freedom to worship -- the freedom to worship as you please, and your right to basic human dignity.
This country, like my own country, is blessed with diversity.  Not everybody looks the same.  Not everybody comes from the same region.  Not everybody worships in the same way.  In your cities and towns, there are pagodas and temples, and mosques and churches standing side by side.  Well over a hundred ethnic groups have been a part of your story.  Yet within these borders, we’ve seen some of the world’s longest running insurgencies, which have cost countless lives, and torn families and communities apart, and stood in the way of development.
No process of reform will succeed without national reconciliation.  (Applause.)  You now have a moment of remarkable opportunity to transform cease-fires into lasting settlements, and to pursue peace where conflicts still linger, including in Kachin State.  Those efforts must lead to a more just and lasting peace, including humanitarian access to those in need, and a chance for the displaced to return home.
Today, we look at the recent violence in Rakhine State that has caused so much suffering, and we see the danger of continued tensions there.  For too long, the people of this state, including ethnic Rakhine, have faced crushing poverty and persecution.  But there is no excuse for violence against innocent people.  And the Rohingya hold themselves -- hold within themselves the same dignity as you do, and I do.
National reconciliation will take time, but for the sake of our common humanity, and for the sake of this country’s future, it is necessary to stop incitement and to stop violence.  And I welcome the government’s commitment to address the issues of injustice and accountability, and humanitarian access and citizenship.  That’s a vision that the world will support as you move forward.
(See prior related posting.)