The leader of the Catholic Church on Wednesday issued a fresh rebuke against Myanmar over its repression of the Rohingya minority group, just days after a United Nations report concluded that security forces had slaughtered and raped hundreds of men, women and children in a "campaign of terror.”
"They have been suffering, they are being tortured and killed, simply because they uphold their Muslim faith,” Francis said of the Rohingya in his weekly audience at the Vatican.
He asked those present to pray with him "for our Rohingya brothers and sisters who are being chased from Myanmar and are fleeing from one place to another because no one wants them.”
Al-Azhar in a statement said the remarks are proof that the Catholic leader has a correct understanding of international issues.
The Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO) also praised the pope’s comments as "humane and fair”, hoping that they would encourage the international community to put an end to the tragedy of Muslims in Myanmar.
Human rights groups have repeatedly criticized the crackdown against the Rohingya in Myanmar, formerly Burma, putting Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the country’s first democratically elected leader and a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in an awkward situation.
There were hopes that she would bring an end to the Rohingya’s persecution when she was elected in 2015. Last December, then US president Barack Obama lifted sanctions against Myanmar, declaring that the government there had made "substantial progress in improving human rights.” The Trump administration has not taken a clear position on Myanmar.
Observers say tensions between the Rohingya and Myanmar’s security forces appear to be escalating.
The Rohingya, who are Muslims in a primarily Buddhist nation, are denied basic rights, including citizenship, freedom of worship and freedom of travel.