Published: 9 February 2017

Pope Francis defends right of Burma’s Rohingya Muslims

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Pope Francis has issued a strong defence of the right of Myanmar's Rohingya Muslims to "live their faith", and criticised the country's government for an alleged campaign of persecution, The Independent reports.

In a stinging attack on the Burmese regime, the Pope said the Rohingyas have been tortured and killed "simply because they want to live their culture and their Muslim faith".

Burma denies carrying out atrocities against the Muslim minority, consisting of around 1.2 million people in the northern Rakhine state who have been refused citizenship of any country.

Pope Francis made his comments during an unprepared section of his weekly address. He appeared to be referring to a UN rights office "flash report", issued last week, detailing allegations of abuse, rape and murder of Rohingyas at the hands of the Burmese military.

The UN's Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) had been documenting the allegations by speaking to Rohingyas who have fled into neighbouring Bangladesh.

Linnea Arvidsson, one of the four UN workers who interviewed Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and drew up the report, told The Independent last week that she had never before seen such a "shocking" situation.

"I've never encountered a situation like this, where you do 204 interviews and every single person you speak with has a traumatic story, whether their house was burnt, they've been raped or a relative was killed or taken away," said Ms Arvidsson.

Human rights groups have urged Myanmar’s government to back an independent international investigation into alleged abuses by security forces against the Rohingyas, including killings, the razing of homes and the reported systematic use of sexual violence, Vatican Radio adds.