After last year’s condemnation around the violence which was being committed against the Rohingya Muslims, the world seems to have gone silent once more around the issue. A pair of activists are doing something to make sure their plight isn’t forgotten.
Nay San Lwin is an activist and blogger who runs a blog site, Rohingya Blogger which narrates the on the ground experiences of the Rohingya Muslims who have been facing persecution in Myanmar. Shafiur Rahman is a journalist and documentary maker who has made a doccie about the Rohingya. The pair are currently in South Africa on a tour speaking about the genocide and international solidarity. The Daily Vox team spoke to them about the need for awareness of the plight of the Rohingya.
Lwin has been running the blog, which was started by his father, since 2012. He leads a local network of activists based in Rakhine state in Myanmar who report on what is happening. Some of them are now in Bangladesh.
Lwin was recently in Bangladesh: “I was there organising education projects because the students there don’t have any education. Even when they were in Myanmar they didn’t have the education aspects so I am trying to create something and in South Africa as well. With students and teachers to go and teach there.”
His blog has been widely recognised by the international community and diplomats who read the updates. Lwin says the local authority is responsive whenever he posts updates. On the blog there is an English and Burmese section because Lwin says they have to write everything in Burmese for the local people and authority.
On why he thinks it is important for people to know about the persecution, Lwin says people are not just facing normal persecution and it is a genocide.
“It is going on for the past 40 years. Since 1978, and the people at the time there was no internet, there was no telephone line. That’s why people didn’t know but nowadays we have the internet and mobile phones and people have access to social media so we came to know more about the Rohingya situation. It is very important that these people are facing the genocide and it has to be stopped. The people who are now more than a billion in Bangladesh, they have lost everything and have to rebuild their lives so the global citizen must support the end of their sufferings. They also want to live as a dignified person. So the awareness is very much important,” adds Lwin.
While the bloggers are doing very important work on the ground, Lwin says it is very dangerous because the media and the journalists are not allowed to report on the area so the people who are reporting on the violence are considered the enemy of the state. “They cannot reveal the identity, they cannot even say anything about the violence in public. They will be arrested. There are some people who got arrested because they were discovered they are sending the updated information to the media and to me. They are still some people who are in jail.”
Rahman made a documentary about the violence which was happening in the Rakhine state after visiting the place in 2016. He spoke to 20 victims of sexual violence.
“[They were] extremely eager to speak to me. [They] removed their veils saying they took away our dignity so when we’re confronting our violators and attackers, we’re not going to speak behind our veils.”
Rahman says those were difficult testimonies to hear but that documentary led him to follow these women for about six months.
“And that showed up the dangers they had to face. Within one month, one of the girls had been trafficked. Refugee camps are dangerous. People fall prey to malnutrition and trafficking and environmental issues like landslides. [It’s a] difficult place to be.” Rahman says.
With regards to the response to his work, Rahman says the documentary, Tula Toli, showed the pre-planning that took place from the testimonies of the villagers and one could see this was very much planned massacre.
“The response has been great. People were shocked at the brutality and horror of it all. That the military can commit such atrocities with impunity, throwing babies into a fire. Mass killings and mass burnings of villages. People were shocked that this was going on and the international community not doing anything commensurately in response.”
He says as a journalist and a documentary-maker, he’d been in difficult situations and difficult places but this was so overwhelming and was truly emotionally impactful.
Regarding the South Africa tour, Lwin and Rahman are here to spread awareness on the plight of the Rohingya people. They also want the South African government and organisations to revoke two awards from Aung San Suu Kyi. The awards are the Gandhi Memorial Award and an honorary doctorate from the University of Johannesburg.
Lwin says she doesn’t deserve it because she is complicit with the genocide and taken side with the military and has helped cover up the crime.
With regards to South Africa’s role, Lwin says South Africa has abstained from voting on the issue in the United Nations and that needs to be changed in the future.
“South Africa as a country needs to pressure the UN to take strong action against military and government in Myanmar. The United Nations has been failing since 1992 and have never taken any action,” says Lwin. He also says the UN needs to start labeling the situation in the Rakhine state as a genocide.
In South Africa, Rahman wants to get through to people that there is a conspiracy of silence. He also wants to inform people that what is going on isn’t just a Muslim issue – it’s a genocide.
“What’s required is investigations on the ground which Myanmar will not allow. People need to be informed and take whatever action they can take. And concretely bring attention that SA has given two awards which need to be revoked. What is happening is genocide. [It’s] said never again but it’s happening all over again. People need to step up and act,” Rahman says about what South Africans and the international community needs to do.
To find out more about Lwin and Rahman’s tour, follow @ProtectRohingya on Twitter.