Tun Khin is a leading figure in the fight against the serious violations of human rights that the Rohingya community of Myanmar is suffering. He is Rohingya himself and he grew up in the state of Rakhine.
Although his grandfather had been a member of the Birmanian Parliament, Tun Khin has had his right to citizenship refused. He explains how in the early 90s he left his country to get an education: “The authorities in Myanmar did not allow me to go to university simply because I was Rohingya”, the activist tells us.
In 2004 he was able to leave the country and move to the United Kingdom, where he claimed asylum (he is currently a UK citizen). In London, Tun Khin did not forget about his community: “I felt I could use my position as one of the fortunate Rohingya who had been able to flee the country to help my people in Myanmar.”
In 2005 the Burmese Rohingya Organisation UK (BROUK) was founded, and Tun Khin became its chairman. At that moment, the Rohingya community was “invisible, forgotten”, in his own words. BROUK was founded with the objective to raise awareness in Western countries about the situation that the Rohingya population was facing in Myanmar.
Currently, Tun Khin is often on media and has taken part on many forums to raise his voice to defend the rights of the Rohingya community. Among others, he has spoken to the Council for human rights of the United Nations, the Congress and the Department of State in the US, the European Parliament, the European Commission, the British Parliament and the Swedish Parliament.
During your childhood in Myanmar, were you conscious of the discrimination suffered by the Rohingya?
As a child I saw the persecution of Rohingya with my own eyes; I became conscious of it when I was 8. My uncle was murdered by the authorities of Myanmar because he was educated and had influence over the Rohingya community. My father had to flee to Bangladesh because he was falsely accused by the authorities. I saw how friends of my brothers married secretly without government permission (official permission can take between two and three years and requires bribing) and were sentenced to prison. I also remember that I could not go to my uncle’s house in another village after his death because I didn’t have permission from authorities.
You think the latest humanitarian crisis has had the most impact in Western countries compared to previous ones?
In a way, it is good that he has opened his eyes to the world over the Myanmar is carrying out genocide against the Rohingya people. Many people who had never heard of Rohingyas You are now better aware of the serious problems we face. But Myanmar has tried to annihilate us as a people for many years; in recent times, efforts have simply been made intensified. However, the international community is now more consciously, this has not resulted in action.
How do you explain Aung San Suu Kyi’s position?
It’s very sad to see how a great part of the international community still believes that Aung San Suu Kyi is the last hope for Rohingya. It’s very clear that Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence over the Rohingya has nothing to do with political calculations or her being in a difficult position. She simply has no intention of helping Rohingya. She has denied that violations of human rights are even happening and she questioned why Rohingya are fleeing. For whoever has followed her career this shouldn’t come as a surprise. She has refused to talk about Rohingya for many years, even during violence in 2012.
Have you visited the Rohingya refugee camps in Bangladesh.
The last time I was there was in March*. Despite the heroic efforts made by support groups or the Bangladeshi government, it’s clear we are facing a humanitarian crisis. Some Rohingya live in what has already become one of the largest refugee camps in the world. There’s a great need for help, among other things, for food, water and sanitation. There’s also a need for long-lasting housing, which can resist monsoons, which has already taken many lives at the camps. Additionally, refugees also need to access education and employment. We are very grateful for the generosity of the Bangladeshi since the beginning of the crisis but we are also worried about the latest reports that show that the government is restricting the available land for camps and the construction of more permanent structures, as well as the access to education for refugees.
The Rohingya refugee camps gather many people with deep trauma.
There’s a group that offers psychosocial support in the camps, but it’s not enough. This should be a priority for the international community. Beyond the trauma of having witnessed atrocities against human rights in Myanmar, refugees are stuck in a situation which adds to a feeling of helplessness about the future.
What do you expect from the international community?
We need support to make sure justice is made for the crimes committed by the security forces in Myanmar. The authorities have kept their genocidal policies against Rohingya for decades, but nobody has been made accountable. This gives permission to the perpetrators to continue commiting crimes. Myanmar cannot be trusted to investigate on its own, the hope is on the International Criminal Court (ICC). The members of the Security Council of the United Nations need to refer the situation to the ICC.
* This interview was conducted in June 2018