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Video: One Story of Many: Rohingya Testimony

Lessons in Leadership: Criminal Justice Approaches for Preventing Mass Atrocities

In this video, Wai Wai Nu describes her family’s interactions with the criminal justice system in Burma leading up to the genocide of the Rohingya in 2017.


- [Wai Wai Nu] Where I come from, Rakhine State in Burma, Myanmar is the place where many ethnic communities, especially Buddhists and Muslims, live together side by side for generations, for thousands of years.

It all begins in 1962 when a general called U Ne Win staged a coup and he introduced a more strategic form of divide and rule tactics in Rakhine State. Military leaders later on specifically targeted Rohingya with many forms of discriminatory policies and laws that include creations of new citizenship law, which said only Burmese ethnic nationalities are the citizens of the country.

Therefore, by default, Rohingya who were- who were citizens of the country, who were indigenous populations of the country, become automatically non-citizens. The military basically used this popular narrative that Rohingya overcrowded in northern Rakhine State because they illegally moved from Bangladesh to Myanmar. With that narrative, they tried to erase our identity, our history, our culture, our people, and everything.

Since then, the misunderstanding and distrust among the two communities has grown. At the end of my elementary school, I and my family moved to Rangoon, which was capital city of Burma. In Rakhine State at that time, it was in early 1990s, a lot of the public servants were gradually one by one expelled from their services. In the past, we have judges, lawyers, doctors, governors, police officers. So they completely expelled, erased Rohingya's participations in governance, and with that, the local governments and law enforcement started to penalize Rohingya's life or activities. People were arrested with false allegations and they would never return and people will be killed in the prisons.

In the early stage of genocide, our community didn't notice. These things were happening gradually and we were unable to document all these situations. As my father was a political leader, I was hearing all the stories.

People were telling him their daughter is raped by the police or soldiers and people are being killed. All of these stories I was hearing and I thought if I study law, I can bring justice for these people. Because I went to the high school in Rangoon, I was able to admit to the law school.

In my second year of law school, I was arrested, along with my father, my mom, my sister, and my brother. I was just 18 years old. My father was sentenced to 47 years and the rest of us were sentenced to 17 years. It was very obvious that we were arrested because we were Rohingya. The charge was that we moved from Rakhine to Rangoon without permission. The judge simply ignored anything that we said. She already have a written verdict for us and we were denied of our right to appeal.

I remember a lawyer, a friend of my father, came to represent us and he wasn't even allowed to enter the court or the court compound. At the time, under military, it is what they say and what they decide. When we were providing our testimony, the clerk and the judge should have written everything that we have said, but they choose not to.

The laws in the book were not that bad, actually. In fact, it is because a lot of these discriminatory practices are not written in the book. They were secret local orders, so I wasn't able to understand and comprehend what is happening by simply reading the law book.

My family and I were released from prison in 2012 after almost seven years, under the presidential amnesty. Although we were not severely tortured inside the prison, we were denied of our healthcare as well as mentally tortured.

If we were imprisoned in Rakhine State, we may have already lost our family members.

In 2012, when we have so-called political transition, that's when the military started to fuel hate and propaganda as a more active campaign by using social media, printed media, and every available tools they have. The judges or the prosecutor or the police would write hate speeches on Facebook.

In 2017, we've seen much larger scales of violent attack against Rohingya, and thousands of people were being killed and women were being raped, and children were slaughtered, and about 400 villages were torched.

Prior to 2012, there are so many warning signs: expulsions of INGOs, the military deploying forces to Rakhine State, taking away Rohingya's even knives from home and removing Rohingya's houses fences so that there is no privacies for the community and they become extremely vulnerable. Yet there was no actions taken inside the country or by the international community.

The genocide against the Rohingya were not possible if the criminal justice systems and judiciary as a whole were not involved.

So my family's story is one of the story of many thousands and thousand of Rohingya's experiences.