Thet Swe Win runs the Centre for Youth and Social Harmony in his native Myanmar. He recently made a name for himself as one of the few Buddhist voices willing to speak out against his country’s treatment of the Rohingya
Why do you speak up for the Rohingya?
We do not see the attacks in August as terrorist attacks, as the government has claimed. The Rohingya people are the most oppressed and unwanted people worldwide. They are now fighting for their freedom – this is what we see.
How can you encourage others inside Myanmar to follow your lead, is that even possible?
People believe that the Rohingya are Bengali intruders who are invading Myanmar… and it is really difficult to convince them otherwise right now. Most liberal voices are getting quieter on this issue. Even civil society leaders and human rights activists are not speaking out and are actually becoming more nationalist. We need to promote the protection of human rights and people need to take a break and reflect on their values.
What do you think of Aung San Suu Kyi’s response?
She has chosen to stand with her own voters. She is contradicting herself. Before she got in power she was seen as a human rights champion. She gave very powerful and colourful speeches. They all contradict with what she is doing right now… It breaks my heart a lot. Her struggle and sacrifices are what inspired me to work for human rights and democracy in Myanmar. We, her followers, feel so lost now. We don’t know what to believe or who to believe – this is what the human rights defenders of Myanmar are feeling like.
How do the international and local media responses differ?
The government doesn’t let in any international or local media to travel freely and go in to get the report. The Burmese media only gets its information from the army; the army is going to be biased. They should let media come in at their own risk like they do in other countries, because… quite a lot of people now are becoming nationalist, so people are biased. It’s very difficult to get the true information on the ground as the government army is controlling everything.
Is the Rohingya situation getting worse?
Yes, it is getting much worse than before.
This article was published in the November edition of Southeast Asia Globe magazine. For full access, subscribe here.