SEATTLE — The suffering of the Rohingya is far from over. The United Nations released with a report on August 24 in which it stated that the Rohingya crisis is the “world’s fastest-growing refugee crisis” and that it is a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing.”
Meanwhile, Myanmar’s government, which includes Nobel Peace Prize winner turned controversial de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, has denied any wrongdoing. On September 3, it sent two Reuters journalists to jail for seven years for reporting on a massacre of 11 men and young boys in the countryside.
Spurred to action by the intransigence of Myanmar’s government, celebrities in the U.S. have begun using their considerable influence to bring attention to the treatment of the Rohingya. They are calling on the government in Myanmar to acknowledge the atrocities committed against the Rohingya people, including mass rape, murder and the burning of villages. These are three examples of celebrities speaking up for the Rohingya.
Cate Blanchett Addresses the United Nations
Actress Cate Blanchett spoke before the U.N. Security Council about the suffering she witnessed when she visited camps in Bangladesh housing Rohingya Muslims who had fled Myanmar to escape persecution at the hands of the military. In the camps, Blanchett, who serves as a U.N. Goodwill Ambassador, heard accounts of the violence that the Rohingya people have faced. One particularly awful practice that the army has employed is burning children alive in front of their families. Blanchett told the Security Council: “I am a mother, and I saw my children in the eyes of every single refugee child I met. I saw myself in every parent. How can any mother endure seeing her child thrown into a fire?” Blanchett’s testimony has gone viral.
Angelina Jolie Among the Celebrities Speaking Up for the Rohingya
Film star Angelina Jolie is well-known and respected for her activism. As a special envoy of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), she has condemned the violence against the Rohingya people, especially Rohingya women. In a video appeal for UNHCR, Jolie said, “The Rohingya are a stateless people. They are denied citizenship and rights in Myanmar and access to basic services, despite having lived in the country for centuries…Like all of us, they deserve to belong, and to live free from violence and discrimination and persecution.”
Jolie then urged the viewer: “At this defining moment, as they struggle to survive as refugees, their lives depend on our support. They are relying on us not to forget them and not to turn away.” Jolie’s moving words in combination with her star status make her a powerful voice for the Rohingya.
Mindy Kaling, Frieda Pinto and Others
In November 2017, actresses Kaling and Pinto were among dozens of celebrities speaking up for the Rohingya of an open letter published in The Guardian. In the letter, the celebrities spoke out against the persecution of the Rohingya people, and pled with readers: “Remember what happened in Rwanda? Now, pay attention to Myanmar.”
They ended the letter by asking countries represented in the United Nations to pressure the Myanmar government to “stop these atrocities, grant the Rohingya citizenship and allow them to return to a place they call home.”
The above examples of celebrities speaking up for the Rohingya show the powerful impact entertainers can have on society and social change. When celebrities raise their voices, people listen.
– Evann Orleck-Jetter