Jolie's refugee comment stirs debate in Thailand
Thailand's government may still be miffed at Angelina Jolie for speaking out on behalf of impoverished boat people, but the actress has prompted soul-searching among some in the Southeast Asian country.world Updated: Feb 12, 2009 17:48 IST
Thailand's government may still be miffed at Angelina Jolie for speaking out on behalf of impoverished boat people, but the actress has prompted soul-searching among some in the Southeast Asian country.
For a second day, Thai officials rebuked the globe-trotting leading lady for calling on the country to respect the rights of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority people fleeing nearby Myanmar's military dictatorship.
"It was not her role to comment on the matter," Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Tharit Charungvat said Thursday. Jolie was in Thailand last week as a United Nations goodwill ambassador, touring a northern camp for other refugees from Myanmar.
Thai authorities have been accused of routinely abusing Rohingya refugees, including towing more than 1,000 out to open sea and leaving them to die in boats with no engines late last year. Some drifted to the shores of India and Indonesia weeks later, but survivors said hundreds others died. Thailand has denied any abuse, but says the boat people are economic migrants, not refugees. Local newspapers seized on the controversy _ but not all took the side of the government.
"Instead of blaming Jolie ... why don't we start talking about the root cause of the problem?" an editorial in the English-language The Nation asked, calling on the government to re-examine its policies based on "humanitarian principles." Thai academic Pavin Chachavalpongpun, writing in the Bangkok Post, even said that a "particular brand of Thai-ness has successfully impeded society's responsibility to nurture human rights."
Jolie _ who has visited refugees in many hotspots including Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Sudan _ did not directly criticize Thailand's actions. Her offending comment merely expressed hope through a U.N. statement that authorities would respect the rights of Rohingya and all refugees.
Still, her star power has helped highlight the long-overlooked plight of the Rohingya, a stateless minority who live mostly in Myanmar but are not recognized as citizens by its military rulers. Myanmar's consul-general to Hong Kong defended the junta's policy this week by telling the South China Morning Post this that the Royingya are "ugly as ogres" whose "dark brown" skin is in contrast with the "fair and soft" ethnic Burmese majority.