American interfaith leaders have praised Bangladesh and its citizens for standing by the forcibly displaced Rohingya minority. Members of a delegation of interfaith leaders currently in Dhaka, they dubbed the Myanmar army’s massacre of Rohingyas genocide and emphasized the importance of setting up a safe zone for them in Rakhine state.
The delegation thanked Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina for her personal attention to the plight of the Rohingyas, mentioning that they are a community that has been the target of state-sanctioned discrimination for decades.
“It is a textbook case of genocide," Beth Lilach, senior director at the Holocaust Memorial Center on Long Island, told the media in Dhaka. “The persecution of Muslim Rohingya evolved in stages similar to the progression of Nazism suffered first by German Jews and then by all of European Jewry.”
International Interfaith Peace Corps Chairman Imam Mohamed Magid said the Rohingya had repeatedly been forced to flee to Bangladesh. “It makes the need for a safe zone in the Rakhine state very clear,” he added.
"With a safe zone, protected by international peacekeepers, we are more likely to be able to keep the peace and allow safe and just repatriation," added Magid, also executive Imam of All Dulles Area Muslim Society in Sterling, Virginia.
Rabbi David Saperstein, former US ambassador at large for International Religious Freedom, said that since the 2012 riots in Rakhine state, mosques had been attacked, Quran and other religious books burned, schools offering religious education closed and Muslim scholars assaulted.
“These occurrences were part of the reason that for a number of years, the US government has designated Myanmar as a ‘country of particular concern’, that is, a country that engages in egregious systemic violations of religious freedom,” he added.
Nearly 700,000 Rohingya men, women and children fled to Bangladesh since late last August after the Myanmar security forces launched a brutal offensive targeting the predominantly-Muslim minority following militant attack on 30 police posts and an army base.
Bangladesh was already hosting several hundred thousand Rohingya who had crossed the border at various times in the past to escape persecution in Myanmar.
The ‘Interfaith Coalition to stop genocide in Burma’ organized the 14-member delegation that includes two Buddhist leaders, two Jewish leaders, two Imams, and several Christian leaders.
Interfaith Coalition’s spokesperson Nicolee Ambrose said the delegation was comprised of leaders and adherents of the world’s major religions, “who are united in our efforts to address the suffering of the Rohingya people.”
The delegation visited Rohingya camps in Cox’s Bazar on March 26 and 27. They returned to the US on Wednesday.
Ambrose said the purpose of their visit was to personally observe and witness the atrocities the Rohingya are experiencing, and to meet those who were most affected by the crisis.
“The US House of Representatives is the first elected body in the world to pass legislation in support of Rohingya security and citizenship. The Congress is considering additional measures,” she said.
Ambrose said the president, secretary of state, and UN ambassador had made powerful statements recognizing the plight of the Rohingya.
"We are asking the US Congress to pass a bill to support the Prime Minister of Bangladesh Sheikh Hasina's position to create a safe zone for Rohingyas in Burma protected by peacekeeping troops," she said. “It is the only solution to the Rohingya crisis.”