WASHINGTON (AP) — Images of homeless and stateless Rohingya Muslims forced to flee a deadly outbreak of sectarian violence in Myanmar are being projected onto the outside walls of the Holocaust Memorial Museum, putting a spotlight on a tragedy that has unfolded as the former pariah state has won praise for embracing democracy.
Myanmar says the display, at an institution constructed in Washington to depict the genocide against Jews during World War II, is inappropriate. It can be seen by tourists and passers-by just a few blocks from the White House, where only six months ago President Barack Obama paid tribute to President Thein Sein.
Stark, black-and-white images by American photographer Greg Constantine, are projected at night on the museum's external walls. They combine searching portraits with pictures of the scorched settlements that the Rohingya were forced to flee, leaving more than 100,000 confined to camps. They are denied citizenship in Myanmar, also known as Burma, and are typically regarded there as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh.
"It's disturbing that at a time when there are so many conversations on the perceived amazing developments in Burma, this tragedy has been overshadowed by everybody's interest on what's been happening elsewhere in the country with democratic reforms," said Constantine, who has spent seven years photographing the Rohingya on both sides of the Myanmar-Bangladesh border.
The federally funded Holocaust museum primarily commemorates the genocide against the Jews by the Nazis. But it also documents the mass killings that have blighted Bosnia, Rwanda and Sudan, and seeks to spotlight situations where it sees a repeat of such atrocities. The museum has previously projected images on its walls of Holocaust survivors and from South Sudan and the Darfur region of Sudan.
"We are not saying that genocide is taking place in Burma," said Michael Abramowitz, director of the museum's Center for the Prevention of Genocide. "We are not trying to equate these different situations. The Holocaust was a unique event in human history. But what we do want to do is use our assets to try to prevent these kinds of crimes from happening to others in the future."
Myanmar authorities' failure to prevent sectarian clashes between minority Muslims and majority Buddhists has dented the international reputation of Thein Sein's government.
The former general, hosted by Obama at the White House in May, has been applauded in the West for steering the country from decades of direct military rule. He has eased media restrictions, freed most political prisoners and been rewarded with a rapid lifting of sanctions.
But crimes against humanity have been reported in the midst of the democratic reforms. Sectarian violence that broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya in the country's west has spread to other regions of the country. In all, some 240 people have been killed, mostly Muslims, and 240,000 forced to flee their homes.