Young Rohingya woman chases dream of peace and justice in Myanmar

Mon Sep 1, 2014 9:15am EDT
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YANGON (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Wai Wai Nu is a diminutive 27-year-old with pro-democracy activism in her genes and a quarter of her young life spent behind bars.

The former political prisoner is now working to end the persecution faced by her people, the stateless Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar.

The mistreatment she and her family have suffered is just one example among many of abuse aimed at the Rohingya, a minority of around 1.33 million living mainly in Rakhine State. Most are denied citizenship despite having lived in Myanmar for generations.

Wai Wai is one of Myanmar's brave, articulate and clear-sighted women working on countering the extremist views that tend to dominate the dialogue over religious intolerance and communal violence.

Whether the discussion is about the Rohingya or women's right to marry men of their choice, firebrand Buddhist monks and nationalists have successfully stoked Buddhist-Muslim tensions.

"Right now, the Buddhists are becoming more afraid of the Muslims and vice versa. Everybody feels insecure," she told Thomson Reuters Foundation in her sparsely-furnished office at the top of a six-story building in Myanmar's main city, Yangon.

"There is little contact, trust or relationship between the communities at the moment so it's easy for an agent provocateur to incite riots and hatred."

Wai Wai's ambitions are long-term: peaceful co-existence of different groups in Myanmar, especially in her home state Rakhine, also known as Arakan, and an end to injustice.

"We would like Rakhine State to be a fair, developed and prosperous state for everyone, regardless of their race or religion," she said.   Continued...

Rohingya activist and lawyer Wai Wai Nu, a former political prisoner, poses at her office in Yangon, Myanmar, July 28, 2014.  REUTERS/Staff