The Rohingya are possibly the most persecuted people in the world, and yet few people are aware of their plight. A Muslim minority long resident in Burma’s Rakhine State, where the majority is Buddhist and ethnically Rakhine, the 800,000 Rohingya are denied citizenship by Burma’s government. Essentially stateless, they lack basic rights, including the rights to work, travel, marry, and bear children freely. They routinely suffer forced labor, confiscation of property, arbitrary arrest and detention, and physical and sexual violence.
In an effort to raise awareness of their plight, the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum will project on its exterior building-sized images of the Rohingya taken by prize-winning photographer Greg Constantine. The exhibit, Our Walls Bear Witness: The Plight of Burma’s Rohingya, will run nightly November 4 through 8, as part of the FotoWeekDC 2013 festival.
Constantine has spent the better part of a decade documenting the lives of stateless peoples around the world. This collection of images of the Rohingya taken in Burma and Bangladesh in recent years gives us an intimate look at their suffering. More of these photos can be seen on Constantine's website Exiled to Nowhere.
There has been a greater focus on the Rohingya since communal violence between Rakhine and Rohingya in 2012 claimed 200 lives, destroyed numerous Rohingya communities and forced their residents to flee. Now, some 180,000 Muslims—including 103,000 children—are confined in Rakhine State under dire conditions in displacement camps and forcibly segregated communities. Some Rakhine leaders have openly called for ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya.
In the past year alone, an estimated 35,000 desperate Rohingya have attempted to flee Burma in flimsy, overcrowded boats. Neighboring countries have denied them refugee status, and some have forced the boats back out to sea, confined the refugees in squalid camps, or sold them to human traffickers.
The Museum seeks to honor the victims of the Holocaust by inspiring future generations to build a world in which genocide and related crimes against humanity no longer occur. The increasing persecution, concentration, and segregation of the Rohingya and the escalating hate speech and violence targeting Rohingya and Muslims generally in Burma give cause for grave concern.
We're excited to be partnering on this project with groups such as the Open Society Foundations, National Endowment for Democracy, and Physicians for Human Rights that already have done so much to create awareness of the suffering of the Rohingya. With this large-scale open-air exhibit, we hope to draw even more attention to their plight.