Tutu Says Burma Must Avoid ‘New Apartheid’

South African peace activist Desmond Tutu speaks at the Baldwin Library in Rangoon on Feb. 27, 2013. (Photo: Kyaw Phyo Tha / The Irrawaddy)

RANGOON — South African peace activist Desmond Tutu called on Burma’s leaders to embrace the idea that “freedom is cheaper than oppression” during his first visit to the country, and pressed them to end violence against Rohingyas and other minorities.

Speaking on Wednesday at Rangoon’s Baldwin Library, run by the US embassy, Tutu laced his talk with coded references to the ongoing racist attacks against Rohingya Muslims and wars in ethnic areas, which he said threatened a “new apartheid.”

“If you want to truly be free then it must be all of you together,” he told the 100-strong audience that included former political prisoners, ethnic leaders and monks who spearhead the 2007 Saffron Revolution.

“Very many people around the world have held you in their hearts, have prayed for you and continue to do so,” he said. “I met former political prisoners yesterday and told them you belong to an aristocracy whose members include Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Nelson Mandela.”

Tutu, a former bishop who played a key role in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement in the 1980s, drew parallels with his country’s experience and showed the advantages that come from embracing democracy.

“You don’t have to contend with sanctions, you don’t have to spend resources keeping people under lock and key, you can participate in international business and sport, you can attract tourists.

“And the most important thing … is that this is a moral universe. Right and wrong matter.”

He praised Burma’s President Thein Sein for the changes he has helped bring about in the country, but also stressed the “ongoing suffering of our Rohingya sisters and brothers.”

“Don’t say there are others that are not even allowed to travel freely,” he said. “Don’t say ‘No, you don’t belong here.’ Because the world will say, ‘Ah – there’s a new apartheid’ and we know what the world did to South Africa’s apartheid.”

Abu Tahay, a Rohingya community leader in the audience, said Tutu’s words offered a guide to help Burma reach its goal of peace and harmony.

“If you see people as human, our goal is quite close. If you base on nationality, our goal will become far away,” he said.


25 Responses to Tutu Says Burma Must Avoid ‘New Apartheid’

  1. Please Rev. Tutu don’t equate, don’t tout the problems in Myanmar as a “new apartheid.” It does not hold water. Get off the pulpit and stop preaching to the choir and spend time on the history of Myanmar before preaching the Sermon on the Mount to us…just enjoy your visit and don’t forget to visit the Shwedagon Pagoda that is where Christianity gets some of its’ parables and teachings of Christ.

  2. Whatever the truth is, Burmese have lost a lot of sympathy in other parts of the world, because of the way this Rohingya (sorry Bingala) issue was handled. Burmese politicians are still very naive when it comes to how people elsewhere in the world form their opinions on matters such as racial discrimination. Perception and PR is the key to such problems.
    Many of the Rohingya’s are probably illegal immigrants but they are definitely not the only ones in Burma. There are a lot more illegal Chinese immigrants in Mandalay and Northern Burma than Rohingyas in Rakhaing State, but most Burmese normally are very “hush-hush” about this Chinese invasion, partly because they are scared of China (like Aung Min), partly because Chinese have money (ask Tayza) and partly because Burmese tend to think “Chinese have lighter skin and look like us” (look at all the ads in magazines)
    A modern State cannot base its citizenship laws on ethnicity (135 tribes?), physical appearance or even on religious grounds. The UN Charter prohibits that!

    • Citizenship has always been an individual case by case issue. Corrupt or not there ever been en masse naturalization anywhere? Illegal immigration yes, centuries old.

  3. Shame on you, Tutu!
    Our ethnicities love each other. Every one of us can feel it. Present problems will be going to die out sooner than we think as the country has been opening up. The group you are trying to lobby is not existent in real world. You need to read history and keep fairness and justice in your heart in head. We all know who are our brothers and who are not.

    If you feel so painful for them, please bring them to your country which is bigger and richer with diamond mines and gold mines. Your colour and feature are also similar with them so that they can be embedded with your people. However, other South Africans would not agree with you, I bet.

    You have unnecessarily interfered with our country’s cause in the past and failed. This time, 60 million people will certainly hate and despise you if you dare to lobby for that particular group. Beware!!

  4. Tutu said it right. Myanmar cannot afford to become an Apartheid State in 21st century. The Bama, the Rakhine and all other races are brothers of the Rohingya. Let them live in peace, loving each other. Abolish mutual hate. You will become enlightened instantly. Ong!

    • Let them be your brothers, but not us! We cannot welcome them and Tutu was and is wrong whenever he interfered in our internal affairs without concrete knowledge of country’s history, culture, and tradition. We don’t need any lobbyist for the Kawtaw Bengalese.

    • How can Buddhists live in peace when the tenet of Islam is to treat all othet religions as enemy and to rule with the sword? Don’t be naive.

  5. Desmond Tutu knows a lot about savage ethnic murder and reconciliation. The Burmese people would be wise to read about his experience in South Africa as their day approaches rather than tell him and the west that they know best. Of course majority Burmese will say they know best regarding atrocities committed to ethnic minorities. If they don’t clean up their act and in a hurry, the money train from the west will stop right on the tracks.

    • Sorry Mal,
      Tutu should preach the fake ethnic Bengalese in Myanmar and not us. Those Bengalese raped and killed in inhumane ways more than enough and now host country could not tolerate their aggressive acts and demand of ethnic status by telling the whole world lies after lies. You should read the history thoroughly before you say something that hurts 60 millions of us. We don’t care the money train; only the government cares about it, but they cannot ignore the collected will of the people.

  6. It is true . Our Country has a lot of works to do and lessons to learn from outside world. We have to live with International Norm and standard. National reconciliation along with treatment of human beings should be the forefront and basic principle of our constitution. No discrimination based on color of skin, race or religion. Who knows if we accept another human with open arm, then one day or generation , it will be an assets to our country.

  7. It’s good he showed interest in Burma but he saw the problems in newsman’s term is a problem. The problems in Myanmar is mostly investment greed and illegal immigration and has nothing to do with aparthied as far as it goes. It is a near miss but thank you.

    • Thank you brother. I agree with your opinion in this case. He isn’t a qualified person to comment or preach us; he lacks understanding of our history, culture, and tradition.

  8. I like to present my point of view from history back groung. Who are the invaders in South Africa? Who used to run and govern South Africa? I believe Bishop Tutu can give me straight answer. What was the condition of Native South African people under invading White Master? South Africa was invaded and ruled. In Arakan State, who is invader and invaded? We are not invading into the other people land and causing human suffering. If the world is as open as Bishop Tutu said, why are there boundries? Why are we regulate another humanbeing in the name of freedom? Are we really free as we should be in our own home without outside influences shall we say from invation of illegal immigrants and so they say high moral figure such as Bishop Tutu? Burma already paid alot under British rule if Bishop Tutu forget. Burma can not afford to pay more for colonial time messes. On the other hand, our own Burmese people are struggling with poverty and lack of oppotunities and jobs. How can the moral figure ask the native people of Burma to suffer for the invaders? If Bishop Tutu really want us to suffer for his idealogy, he might as well handed South Africa back to invaders and rulers Apartheid. What is fairness idea of Bishop Tutu? Shouldn’t we have the same rights as any other nation to protect our boundries, our society, our culture, and our interests? Why not Bishop Tutu criticize the Obama administration which doesn’t recognize more than 11 million illegal Mexican living in US as American citizans? In the same token, there are many illegal immigrants in Europe and the same story. If countries open their boundries without protection, smaller nation such as Burma will disappear very shortly along with our culture and our way of life. If you are arguing from humanity point of view, do you know why is communal violence errupt? It was cause by long history and social unjust. I wish Bishop Tutu know the history of Arakan State in WW2 era when Burma was under British colony. My opinion is if Bishop Tutu request Burmese people to treat unfortunate people with kindness from humanity point of view without history lecture, iwould have a sweet ear to listen to. However, the one in reality that Bishop Tutu speach is quite painful to listen to. You were victim once, why are you blaming Burmese victims now? Enjoy your Burma trip and go home happy Bishop Tutu. I personally like you in many ways but Burma furture is not your’s to decide.

  9. I feel sorry for Burmese middle class who are able to read and write decent English shows their support to racism openly on the Irrawaddy platform,which is open to international readers. Racism is racism, no words can justify the racist sentiment, bigotry and oppression of the defenseless . The whole world knows what is happening down there.

    • Don’t worry too much, Snow White. Most of the people who express racism in this forum bear Burmese names of 50’s and 60’s. This means these folks are half past their human life expectancy or may even be very close to their deathbeds provided they continue with their racist vitriol. So, hope is definitely in sight. Don’t give up. Your counter arguments may speed up their sun sets even more.

  10. Tu Tu should DO HIS HOMEWORK before SETTING FOOT on BURMA man!
    Rohingya case is PURELY an ILLEGAL ENTRY ISSUE no more.
    The British colonialists have SOUNDED the ALARM during their DAYS in Burma as well.
    The late prime minister EXPLOITED the so-called Rohingyas for his POLITICAL GAINS only.
    And successive military rules in Burma IGNORED/NEGLECTED the Rohingya INCURSION and the IMMIGRATION PERSONNEL MADE FORTUNES OUT OF the BANGALIS JUMPING FENCE since nearly HALF A CENTURY ago.
    Hence, Rohingya INCURSION into Burma is NON-RELATED to APARTHEID in any sense or understanding lest Tu Tu forgets as well.
    And Tu Tu has GREATLY TARNISHED his IMAGE this time for OPENING HIS BIG MOUTH WIDE and YELLING some non-sense about APARTHEID as regard the ROHINGYA ILLEGAL ENTRY into Arakan/Rakhine State (Burma) and CLAIMING NATIVE STATUS and RIGHT to CITIZENSHIP.
    WHAT A JOKE FOLKS!

  11. In response to U Nyunt Shwe: I understand that you don’t like Rohingas but how come the majority of Burmese consider Siddhartha Gautama as their Buddha. Siddhartha Gautama was born a Hindu prince. Do you dislike non-Buddhist Hindus too?

  12. I am so ashamed that our fellow Myanmars can not have sympathy on Rohingya. Since the military dictators came to power after crushing down a pro-democracy uprising in Myanmar, millions of Myanmars went abroad due to political or economic reasons. Many of our fellows became citizens in countries like Japan, Thailand, USA, UK, and Europe. Unfortunately we never learn from our experiences and world history. We talked about human rights but today we ignore the same rights of Rohingyas. I am so ashamed to hear many of our fellows still hold such opinions. I guess we are accustomed to dictatorship and military authoritarian rule. Over 50 years of brainwash by military dictators have narrowed down our own moral, mindset and way of thinking. Many of our ethnics including Karen, Shan, Kachin and Lahu are treated as one of ethnic in Thailand and China. They enjoy their rights in these countries. But these same ethnic people suffer from their rights in Myanmar. From this, you can see Myanmar and Myanmar citizens are unique in the way that they are accustomed to discriminate one another and disrespect human rights. We are still “old Myanmar”. We are the worst kind of human beings remaining in the world. this is called “Myanmar”

    • ီDear Hkawn,
      Your comparison is most stupid of all comments because Gotama Buddha was a teacher of enlightenment, not a lier. We Buddhists follow his teaching as best as we can, but we’re only laypersons and don’t need to keep all the rules. We don’t hate other Kala and Tayote because they never ask ethnic status and don’t lie to the whole world.

      If you were really ashamed to be a Myanmar, then you should either end your life, or change your citizenship. This is nothing to do with the brainwash. You know their leaders based on America, Europe, and Japan are claiming that their numbers exceed 5 millions and recently said to add with other Muslims in Myanmar, they are second largest group after Bamar. May be you belong to those liers, we don’t know for sure. Well, we don’t care about your opinion and you may go to hell if you were not satisfied with the opinion of the majority.

  13. There are two ways we can view above Tu Tu statement. Rohingyas are Bangali Kalar and Demond Tu Tu an African black Kalar and ugly. These are the mentality of some writers above. Another views we can look all human being as equal. During U Nu’s period every decision were passed democratically. And Rohingyas nationalities were accepted as one of Burmese ethnic. But Ne Win had brain washed majority of Burmese. Ne Win was not pure Burmese and so is Khin Nyunt. To come to true sense another forty years will need for these people

  14. The people who are giving lectures to Tu Tu for lack of knowledge, Do the know the history? Whydid Rakine kings use coins with Arabic alphabets during their era? We can destory historical facts inside our country but not world wide. Millons of Chinese are claiming themselves as burmese. We do not have problem for those. Because their faces are similar to Burmese. Briitish invaded Burma, I agree. Before British who invaded Rakine state? Rakine kings took shelters in Bagalis counry when they were attacked by Burmese Kings.

  15. Hey Zaw Win, you cannot be Myanmar blood, but just mere Kawtaw lobbyist longing to such Oil money. Forget U Nu, he himself was a dictator in disguise of Democracy and you should read about his official Biography written by Professor Richard Butwell. Have you ever heard by chance or by mistake that there is a saying, “A Stitch In Times, Saves Nine.” We despise them not because they are dark or ugly, because they repeatedly lie and are cruel and adulterers. If you were not a Muslim, you should be ashamed of your attitude towards you own kins folks.

    Academic reference of U NU’s official biography is:
    Butwell, Richard. 1969. U Nu of Burma. Stanford University Press,

    Besides, you might find those authoritarian elements in his own writing, specifically, in Saturday Son or in Myanmar “Tar-tay sanay-thar”. You can read much more fuller discussions of Rakhine by Dr. Aye Chan of Kanda University, Tokyo and Myat Thein Htun.

    You’re just a Kawtaw scam!!

    • I do not care whether a I am Kawtaw or not. I feel sorry for those who have full of hatred for other community. I am not a highly qualified like you. But will not use bad word for you. I know who you are. I will read the most famous only historian of Rakine state. Dr. Aye Chan. I like his writing about viruses.

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