PRESTIGIOUS humanitarian accolade the Aurora Prize for Awakening Humanity has been awarded to Kyaw Hla Aung, a lawyer and activist in Burma (Myanmar) who has campaigned for the rights of the persecuted Rohingya Muslim minority for decades.
The awarding committee said in a statement that Kyaw Hla Aung had been recognised for “his dedication to fighting for equality, education and human rights for the Rohingya people in Myanmar, in the face of persecution, harassment and oppression.”
Kyaw Hla Aung personally received a $100,000 grant, as well as $1 million to donate to organisations of his choice. He elected to give the funds to Médecins Sans Frontières, Malaysian Medical Relief – MERCY Malaysia, and the International Catholic Migration Commission, all of whom work to provide medical aid and assistance to refugees in Burma.
He was chosen from 750 nominations for the third annual prize, which is named in honour of survivors of the Armenian Genocide and their saviours. Between 1914 and 1923, an estimated 1.5 million Armenians were slaughtered by the Ottoman Empire. Turkey continues to deny it was a genocide.
“It is with a great sense of responsibility that we stand ready to support Kyaw Hla Aung’s advocacy work that will hopefully lead one day to the enactment of national and international policies to protect and defend the vulnerable,” said Vartan Gregorian, Cofounder of the Aurora Prize.
“Kyaw Hla Aung is doing tremendous work, at great risk to himself, and exemplifies the far-reaching impact one person can have to galvanise a movement, and to help individuals transform their lives.”
“There are severe restrictions on my people. They have lost their courage and faith in themselves, have become illiterate, and, as a result, are penniless,” said Kyaw Hla Aung said upon receiving the award.
“The support of the Aurora Prize serves as important recognition for all of the Muslim victims of human rights violations, as the plight of the Rohingya people continues to become more visible to the international public.”
Deemed the “world’s most persecuted minority”, the Rohingya have been denied Burmese citizenship and face severe ongoing legal discrimination in the country, where many view them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Some 700,000 Rohingya refugees have fled violence in Burma’s northern Rakhine State into neighbouring Bangladesh since Aug 25, 2017, in what many international observers have labelled ethnic cleansing and even genocide.
The newly crowned Aurora laureate Kyaw Hla Aung has been jailed a number of times for his work in promoting justice for the Rohingya community, including between 1990 and 1997 under Burma’s former military dictatorship and for almost a year in 2014.
“Kyaw Hla Aung’s work personifies the spirit of the Aurora Prize,” said Mary Robinson, Aurora Prize Selection Committee Member and Former UN High Commissioner for Human Rights.
“He demonstrates the exceptional impact an individual can have in fighting injustice that often seems unbeatable, and inspires us to consider how a brave step forward to support the world’s most vulnerable people can create impact beyond measure.”