Francis didn’t cite the crackdown or even utter the contested word "Rohingya” in his speech to Myanmar’s civilian leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, and other authorities and diplomats in the capital. But he lamented how Myanmar’s people have suffered "and continue to suffer from civil conflict and hostilities,” and insisted that everyone who calls Myanmar home deserves to have their basic human rights and dignity guaranteed, AP reported.
Rohingya Muslims have faced state-supported discrimination in the predominantly Buddhist country for decades, deprived of citizenship and unable to access basic services such as adequate education and health care. In August, the army began what it called "clearance operations” in Rakhine state following an attack on police posts by Rohingya insurgents. The violence, looting and burning of villages has forced more than 620,000 Rohingya to flee to Bangladesh.
In his most anticipated speech of his weeklong trip to Myanmar and Bangladesh, Francis expressed support for Suu Kyi’s efforts to bring about reconciliation among different groups after decades of military dictatorship. And he insisted that religious differences in the majority Buddhist country must never be a cause for division or distrust.
"The future of Myanmar must be peace, a peace based on respect for the dignity and rights of each member of society, respect for each ethnic group and its identity, respect for the rule of law, and respect for a democratic order that enables each individual and every group – none excluded – to offer its legitimate contribution to the common good,” he said.
Francis’ avoidance of the term "Rohingya” and his encouragement for Suu Kyi’s government disappointed Rohingya activists and human rights groups, who have criticized Suu Kyi for what they consider a weak response to the military crackdown. Suu Kyi’s supporters — including the Catholic Church — say she is limited in what she can say against the military and needs more time to bring about reconciliation.
The term "Rohingya” is shunned by many in Myanmar because the ethnic group is not a recognized minority in the country. The question of whether Francis would use the term in a show of solidarity dominated the run-up to his trip.