Published 4 September 2019
Edith Mirante is an author with a passion for human rights and environmental issues. She has travelled widely in Asia, and has investigated atrocities and resistance in remote corners of Burma’s frontier conflicts. Edith founded Project Maje in 1986 to focus on human rights & environmental issues in Burma.
What do you think are the main tasks facing Rohingya living in the diaspora?
The Rohingya people in the diaspora have done extraordinary work in revealing and publicizing the genocide. They have also engaged in advocacy and diplomacy for refugees & IDPs, networking, written language development and women’s empowerment. I’m sure they will continue to excel at these crucial tasks.
Since August 2017, we have seen and heard many statements, resolutions, reports, documentaries, speeches, analyses etc. about the conflict. Which made an impression on you and why?
The most important element was the initial eyewitness cellphone videos by brave Rohingyas which revealed the genocide as it was happening. That was followed by INGO reports with satellite mapping. Alex Crawford's Sky News video of the Naf River crossing made a particularly strong impact. Reuters reporting by Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo and others were impressively researched and presented. The wonderful images by Rohingya refugee photojournalist Abul Kalam show camp conditions and the humanity of refugees.
Thinking about the country in which you live, what kind of awareness exists about the Rohingya? What has been the response of politicians and human rights organisations?
People in the US, politicians and others, are very aware of the Rohingya situation and sympathetic. Unfortunately current US refugee admittance has been severely curtailed, so fewer Rohingyas are able to come here (some were resettled from Malaysia in past years.)
How do people perceive Aung San Suu Kyi in your country?
Americans are confused and curious about a renowned former human rights “prisoner of conscience” condoning or abetting genocide by the Myanmar military. They want to know why this happened.
What could bring greater focus on the Rohingya issue?
In January 2018 I wrote an OpEd for the Dhaka Tribune suggesting urban planning for the vast refugee camps, to treat the new communities as a “Green City” that would benefit Bangladesh as well as the refugees. Instead the unrealistic “blue tarp” temporary emergency treatment of the refugee situation has caused many problems. I hope Bangladesh will recognize the need for Rohingya refugees to have education, employment and safe, sustainable communities. Such an approach would also benefit Bangladesh. Accountability is also important: If the Myanmar military & government can be brought to trial at the ICC, then that will be an important focus of international attention.
Do you envisage much change taking place in the next 5 years?
There is always the possibility of change in Burma (Myanmar.) I hope that the military can finally be pushed out of power and held accountable. And I hope that troop withdrawal by the Tatmadaw can bring peace in the ethnic regions. I hope Rohingya citizenship will be recognized and that the people of Rakhine State (Arakan) will control their own resources, including rice production. Lastly, I hope ethnic and religious prejudice can be replaced by appreciation of the advantages of a multicultural country.
Please briefly describe how you have been involved in Rohingya issues.
In 1986 I founded Project Maje to distribute information on Burma (Myanmar) human rights & environmental issues. In 1991, I was on the Bangladesh/Burma border when I met and interviewed the first Rohingya refugee families of that year’s exodus. I wrote about this in my Project Maje report “Our Journey” and in my book “Down the Rat Hole.” I also have a Twitter History Thread about the Rohingya diaspora.