For the thousands who feel let down by the Burmese government, specially Aung San Suu Kyi, there’s a young face of hope.
Being the daughter of a Muslim Rohingya politician Kyaw Min, Wai Wai Nu knows very well what the minorities in her country go through. She herself spent her youth from 18 to 25 in notorious Insein Prison in Yangon, Myanmar.
The imprisonment hardened her resolve to be the voice of her generation and win the rights for the people of Myanmar.
She is the director the Women Peace Network Arakan, which she founded in 2012 upon her and her family’s release from prison.
"When I was released, I saw some positive changes in cities but not in rural areas: not in areas where ethnic minorities lived. It was then I took responsibility to work for my people," she said.
For her, democracy should mean more than parliamentary form of government where the majority rules the country. The minority communities in the country need to be a part of the democratic process and need their rights fulfilled.
Her aim is to convince her country’s newly elected government to include all ethnic minorities in the democratic process.
"There are so many human rights violations occurring in Burma – from land grabbing, and sexual violence in conflict areas, to media restrictions, and attacks against human rights defenders. We work with young people, who tend to be open-minded, encouraging them to engage with the spirit of democracy, to work for the promotion of justice and human rights for all," she says.
She is also the co-founder of Justice for Women, which works to promote women’s rights, raises awareness about sexual harassment and discrimination and provides basic legal education.
While in prison, Wai Wai admired two politicians — Aung San Suu Kyi and Barack Obama.
She believed, “If Obama wins the elections, he will change not only the United States, he would change the entire world.”
She had a chance to meet Obama at a White House dinner, where she personally pushed for her case as well.
“I might have disappointed the president by saying that his policy toward Burma is not a success story, for as long as we see the continuation of human rights violations throughout the country, especially the atrocities in Rakhine state,” Wai Wai remembers.
She knows what she plans to say to her other hero, Aung San Suu Kyi: “I think I would tell her that her vision for our country turning democratic will only be a success when everyone has a chance to participate in the process, everyone should have opportunity to have access to the process.”
“Rohingya should have equal rights, too — she might already know this, but I would like to remind her,” she says.
Yes, Aung San Suu Kyi does need reminding. She has let down the minorities in her country.
Far from resolving the persecuted minority’s problems, the Burmese Nobel Peace Prize winner is not ready to even hear the word “Rohingya.”
While her contributions to human rights in her country cannot be written off, the fact that she consistently turns a blind eye to the calculated exclusion and persecution of Muslims, especially the genocide of the Rohingya community, is inexcusable.
There are 135 official ethnic groups in Myanmar, but Rohingya Muslims — despite living there for hundreds of years — are not one of them. The Buddhist-majority country instead refers to them as "Bengali" or "kalar," which is a pejorative word for people of South Asian descent. Consequently, the Rohingya aren’t recognized as citizens and are deprived of nearly all their basic rights.
The situation took a turn for the worse in 2012, when a wave of bloodshed began under the orders of an influential Buddhist monk, Ashin Wirathu, against imaginary Islamic expansion. Hundreds of Rohingya Muslims died in the following years, with more than 140,000 were left homeless and over 100,000 forced to flee.
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In a time like this, when even the so-called heroes of the nation can’t, or refuse to, do anything, Wai Wai is a rare source of hope for the Rohingya people as she works and campaigns for their rights and raises her voice on issues like extremism, religious intolerance and communal violence.
"The Rohingya used to lead dignified, respectful lives. They were not always stateless. My parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were citizens," Wai Wai remembers.
A citizenship law enacted in 1982 back-peddled history, took away the Rohingya's citizenship, and imposed restrictions on travel, education and jobs, she said.
"Not having this little ID card affects the whole community. It allows the violation of basic human rights and takes away people's dignity and mental well-being,” Wai Wai said.
Banner/Thumbnail Credits: Reuters