Rohingya Activist Receives $1 Million Humanitarian Prize
Sometimes it really pays to do the right thing.
By Joanna Prisco
An activist who has spent more than half his life fighting for Rohingya rights was awarded $100,000 this weekend, as well as $1 million to donate toward his preferred charities.
Kyaw Hla Aung, 78, was honored with the 2018 Aurora Prize on Sunday for 40 years of work as a lawyer dedicated to educational and health care rights for his community in Myanmar — including a collective 12 years of imprisonment for peaceful protest against systematic discrimination and violence.
During a ceremony held on the Turkish-Armenian border, Aung said that he hoped the international recognition might serve to protect him in the future, according to a report on Devex.
“I am in fear of arrest because this is a [situation] of genocide,” he told Devex, referring to Ko Ni, a prominent Muslim lawyer who was assassinated outside Yangon International Airport last year.
Discrimination and lack of citizenship are core to the Rohingya rights mission.
The Aurora #Humanitarian Initiative honors the esteemed lawyer for his personal sacrifice fighting #injustice and advocating for the #Rohingya people in Myanmar. Kyaw Hla Awung is the 2018 #AuroraPrize Laureate. #Refugees#RohingyaCrisis: Learn more: https://t.co/tqIaac6ZJbpic.twitter.com/XpdLGtqPr0— Aurora Prize (@auroraprize_) June 10, 2018
The Muslim minority ethnic group is denied citizenship by Myanmar, and as a result many are stateless. Aung added that due to current travel restrictions, it took him 20 days to reach Armenia for the award ceremony.
More than 700,000 Rohingya have fled Myanmar for Bangladesh since August 2017, when a violent military siege resulted in burned villages and an estimated death toll in the tens of thousands. Of those refugees who survived, 60% are children who bore witness to the traumatic events, according to UNICEF.
Aung maintained that he has reached out multiple times for an audience with Myanmar’s de facto leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, to no avail. Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, has subsequently faced international criticism for allowing the Rohingya community to suffer so much violence from Myanmar military.
Aung said that he would spend the $1 million grant on “education and humanitarian affairs” in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, with 40% dedicated to Médecins Sans Frontières UK, an NGO working within the Rohingya refugee camps. Remaining funds will be split between medical relief charity Mercy Malaysia and the International Catholic Migration Commission.
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