Nearly a decade and a half ago, blogger-activist Nay San Lwin fled his native Myanmar to campaign for the rights of his fellow Rohingya. Lwin says the predominantly Muslim ethnic group is being largely ignored as the Burmese regime’s relations warm with an outside world eager to do business with the petroleum-rich country.
This year thousands of Rohingya fled worsening persecution in Myanmar and Bangladesh to neighbouring south-east Asian countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia and Thailand. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees estimates 25,000 left in boats from January to March alone. Lwin accuses the Myanmar government of “systematic ethnic cleansing.”
Lwin’s blog, Rohingya Blogger, provides regular updates on conditions inside Myanmar. Lwin credits UN Special Envoy and actress Angelina Jolie for trying to raise consciousness and faults foreign governments as well as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi for a lack of support. He spoke by phone with Equal Times from his home in Frankfurt, Germany.
How do you blog from afar?
I have a team there....Every day there are human rights violations, extortion, torture, harassment and the sexual abuse of women.
How has the situation changed?
With the previous military government, people had their registration cards. All Rohingya were official. Now they’ve taken away our cards and given us a green card for two years. Within two years you have to apply for citizenship. But we are entitled to full citizenship.
What kind of access are international observers getting?
The UN Special Envoy for Myanmar (Yanghee Lee) was denied access to Rakhine state (where there is a significant Muslim minority – including Rohingya – amongst the Buddhist majority). Not even Angelina Jolie was allowed to go there. The government said weather conditions were very bad due to a cyclone at the end of July... but it was just a lame excuse. If Jolie made a visit to a refugee camp, it would be big publicity for the Rohingya people.
What does the government want to hide?
They want to hide the latest situation because of all the flood damage [editor’s note: severe floods hit the country from July onwards. Over one million people have been affected]. and all the refugees. The government is not providing any aid. The Myanmar commander didn’t meet with any Rohingya people, he didn’t give any aid. The problem was before the cyclone, because the World Food Program reduced the rations by 15 percent due to budget. With the aid from UNICEF, the government put its label on all the aid: “by the Myanmar government.” They are cheaters.
What do you think of the upcoming election?
There’s an election on 8 November, but temporary cardholders can’t vote. In 2010, five Rohingya MPs were elected. Now the ruling party and Aung San Suu Kyi’s party have refused any Muslim candidates. All these (foreign) governments, they are all waiting for after the election. They want to see Aung San Suu Kyi as president of Burma. But she cannot change the constitution. The government is not willing to change the constitution. Will she do something for the Rohingya? I don’t think so. Many of her party members were with a racist movement and she didn’t’ say anything. Most of her party members are against the Rohingya because of our religion. The Buddhist Dai-Net (ethnic group) speak Rohingya, and they got their citizenship.
How can the international community put pressure on the Myanmar government to help bring about change?
European governments keep condemning this violence and discrimination – the US government has done the same. But the problem is Aung San Suu Kyi was very positive to this general (President and former general Thein Sein), and asked the European and US governments to lift the sanctions. Due to fact the sanctions are lifted, the Burmese government no longer cares. They say the Rohingya people are illegal immigrants. Now after almost three years, they are not doing anything to restore the citizenship of the Rohingya people as they promised. The international community need to impose sanctions again. But nobody will do that, so we have to suffer more. They are pulling for time. They all invested already, there are a lot of projects [here in Myanmar]. They put business on top and give human rights lip service; they don’t do anything for human rights.
When will you return home?
I have no hope. My grandfather was a government civil servant, I come from a family of civil servants. We used to be citizens of Burma but our family passports were burned by a Burmese official. My parents went to the UK. I am a German resident.
If the situation changes, will you return to Myanmar?