“There is evidence that the Rohingya have been in present-day Myanmar since the 8th century,” they said, writing for the Huffington Post. “It is incontrovertible that Muslim communities have existed in [Rakhine] State since the 15th century, added to by descendants of Bengalis migrating to Arakan [Rakhine] during colonial times.”
The comments by Ramos-Horta, the former President of Timor-Leste, and Bangladeshi banker and philanthropist Yunus are sure to raise eyebrows in Myanmar where historical facts surrounding the origin of the Rohingya community are hotly contested.
“The minority Muslim Rohingya continue to suffer unspeakable persecution, with more than 1,000 killed and hundreds of thousands displaced from their homes just in recent months, apparently with the complicity and protection of security forces,” the laureates wrote.
Ramos-Horta and Yunus also criticized Myanmar’s 1982 Citizenship Law which failed to recognize the Rohingyas as citizens of the country, and condemned the travel, marriage and reproduction restrictions imposed on the Rohingyas by the State. The pair called for the Myanmar government to protect the Rohingyas and welcome them as full citizens of the country.
The outspoken support for the Muslim Rohingya minority group comes in stark contrast to the silence and refusal to become embroiled in the situation of a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate—Myanmar’s own Aung San Suu Kyi.
It also contrasts with a comment made by Deputy Immigration and Population Minister Kyaw Kyaw Win who, speaking at the House of Representatives in Naypyitaw on Thursday, said that “there is no so-called Rohingya ethnic race in Myanmar,” according to a report in the state-run media.