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The southeast Asian nation of Burma (also known as Myanmar) is set to hold nationwide multiparty elections on November 8, 2015, the first since 1990 when the country’s former military junta denied the opposition a landslide victory and put Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest.
Burmese Young Leaders participating in the Bush Institute’s Liberty and Leadership Forum offer their perspective on the upcoming elections and the future of their country.
Imprisonment. Discrimination. Isolation. Wai Wai Nu, a member of Burma’s ethnic minority Rohingya population, endured all these things before her twentieth birthday. She spent seven years as a political prisoner before being released in 2012.
Bush Institute staff witnessed Wai Wai’s strength of character and passion for freedom during her time in the Liberty and Leadership Forum. It’s no surprise she’s becoming a globally-recognized champion of minority and women rights in Burma.
Now, with Burma set to hold nationwide multiparty elections on November 8, the first since 1990 when the country’s former military junta denied the opposition a landslide victory, Wai Wai has been sounding the alarm over Burma’s systematic discrimination of minorities, particularly the Rohingya.
For decades, Burma’s government has persecuted Wai Wai’s people, passing legislation in 1982 that stripped many within the Rohingya community of their citizenship and more recently failing to prevent, and reportedly even perpetrating, religiously-motivated violence against them. This year, the legislature enacted a series of laws known as the “Protection of Race and Religion” bills. The new laws empowers authorities to regulate interfaith marriages, impose limitations on when minorities can have children, and reject an individual’s religious conversion. What’s more, the “Protection of Race and Religion” bills have coincided with government-led efforts to disenfranchise the Rohingya.
Since June, Wai Wai has traversed the United States sharing her story with universities, the Washington Post, U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and President Barack Obama to rally support for Burma’s suffering minorities.
As Wai Wai observed in an interview with Foreign Policy, “When a minority isn’t enjoying freedom with you, that isn’t democracy. Everyone in the society should enjoy freedom. Unless everyone’s rights and freedoms are protected, you will never achieve democracy and freedom in your society.”
Learn more about Wai Wai Nu here.
Christopher Walsh serves as a Manager for the Human Freedom Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight.
Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.
A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.Full Bio
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Bush Institute Liberty and Leadership Forum young leader Nickey Diamond (Ye Myint Win), of Yangon, Burma, recently spoke to ABC’s Bob Woodruff about the Burmese government’s brutal persecution of the Rohingya people. During the interview, Diamond explained how one-sided messages from the Burmese government and Buddhist leaders manipulate the general public into hating the Rohingya and believing they are terrorists. The segment also enabled Diamond to share his human rights work, which documents Burmese military officers’ crimes against humanity. Diamond has been threatened and often worries for his family’s safety. Still, he told Woodruff, “They’ll never stop what I’m doing.” Watch the full story on ABC Nightline.