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Opinion: The author is coordinator of the UK-based Free Rohingya Coalition, general secretary of Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia, and a fellow of the Genocide Documentation Center in Cambodia

It was excruciatingly painful for me to watch the four-minute question and answer between US Congressman Brad Sherman and Kyaw Moe Tun, Myanmar’s pro-democracy permanent representative to the UN during the virtual hearing, entitled the Unfolding Crisis in Burma hosted by US House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs on May 4.

Excruciating because I as a Myanmar activist in exile so wanted the National Unity Government (NUG) – for which the Myanmar envoy was speaking in the hearing – to gain political recognition as the true representative of the people of Myanmar from one of the world’s most influential legislatures, and yet the NUG representative failed spectacularly to make the case on behalf of the 54 million people.

Specifically, Congressman Ben Sherman, a member of the host sub-committee – and his colleagues – wanted assurances that the NUG has a clearly defined policy of inclusion about Rohingya’s right to nationality and the restoration of equal and full citizenship. Rohingya were Myanmar people residing in Arakan or Rakhine state whose citizenship was stripped off in different phases, both legally and violently, by successive Myanmar governments since the late 1970s.

Instead of addressing the congressional concerns satisfactorily, the Burmese career-diplomat fumbled. He repeated the same tired national mantra of verifying Rohingyas for citizenship eligibility in accord with the 1982 Citizenship Act, a legal instrument designed by the military dictatorship of General Ne Win to specifically exclude and dis-entitle Rohingyas from full and equal citizenship.

The result was catastrophic. Congressman Sherman took to Twitter and wrote: “See my questioning of Burma/Myanmar dissent @UN Amb. Kyaw Moe Tun. He speaks eloquently against the coup, but like many democracy advocates from Burma gives disappointing answers regarding #Rohingyas.”

Sherman’s colleague on the sub-committee Congressman Ted Lieu (Democrat from California with a large social media following) chimed in with his disapproval of the NUG’s non-committal approach to the genocide survivors.

“UN found the prior government in Myanmar engaged in the ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya with the genocidal intent. An estimated over 25,000 dead and 18,000 women and girls were raped. The new National Unity Government does not include any Rohingya. We cannot support it until that is changed,” he wrote on Twitter.