It has been more than two years since the Myanmar military staged a coup to overthrow the democratically elected National League for Democracy and jail civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The seizure of power in February 2021 only plunged the country deeper into crisis. According to the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project, Myanmar is the highest priority conflict area in 2023 and home to the most non-state armed groups.

The Government of National Unity (NUG), formed by elected ministers deposed by the coup and pro-democracy supporters, continues to advance its governance and build international support, largely from outside the country’s borders.

Significantly, the NUG made a cultural and political shift within its ranks, first appointing an openly gay minister, Aung Myo Min, to the human rights cabinet and a Rohingya, Aung Kyaw Moe, as her deputy.

The predominantly Muslim Rohingya have long been excluded from government positions in Myanmar; In 1962, laws were passed to prevent Rohingya from holding office, and in 1982, Rohingya were banned from even being citizens of a country they had called home for hundreds of years.

The NUG strives to build relations with the international community as the legitimate government of Myanmar [File: Dawei Watch via AFP]

In 2017, this prejudice led to the expulsion of nearly a million Rohingya to neighboring Bangladesh. Led by coup leader Major General Min Aung Hlaing, the military’s actions drew enormous public support and were not condemned by either Aung San Suu Kyi or her government. In fact, she even traveled to The Hague to testify on behalf of Myanmar after the International Court of Justice opened a genocide case.

Therefore, the appointment of a Rohingya as the NUG’s deputy human rights minister indicates a significant departure from the dominance of the Bamar ethnic group over the former NLD and signals the NUG’s willingness to address and make amends for its recent repressive history against the Rohingya.

Al Jazeera recently spoke to Aung Kyaw Moe. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Al Jazeera: How significant is your appointment as Deputy Minister of Human Rights in the Government of National Unity given the repressive history of the Rohingya – including the 2017 genocide and exclusion from public and political life since 1982?

Aung Kyaw Moe: The appointment of a Rohingya cabinet member is historic as Rohingya have been excluded from political office since 1962.

Although nearly a million have been displaced into neighboring Bangladesh, the Rohingya who remain in Myanmar are one of Myanmar’s largest ethnic and religious minorities with a politically representative population.

The Rohingya have always been a part of Myanmar, are now and always will be. Therefore, at this historic moment when the entire nation is fighting to end the dictatorship and shape the future of the nation, it is crucial that the Rohingya be included in this effort, both functionally and numerically, to contribute and to be part of the nation’s political decisions. Manufacturing.

Al Jazeera: With nearly a million Rohingya in refugee camps in Bangladesh, how does the NUG plan to address the issue of repatriation of not only the people but also the ancestral land in Rakhine State?

Aung Kyaw Moe: In June 2021, the NUG published its Policy Paper on the Rohingya – the result of a series of consultations with key leaders.

The directive clearly expresses the NUG’s position on resolving the problem of returns. The NUG is working to develop a comprehensive repatriation plan to ensure the safe, voluntary and dignified repatriation of the Rohingya. Resettlement to ensure that Rohingya can return to their place of origin on their ancestral lands in Rakhine State; and also reintegration that ensures that the Rohingya are integrated into the larger society and can live in a cohesive society.

The NUG will also abolish the 1982 Citizenship Act, which excludes the Rohingya from citizenship, as well as any other local laws that can be used as tools to discriminate against the Rohingya.

Al Jazeera: The 2017 genocide against the Rohingya – led by coup leader Min Aung Hlaing – was widely supported by the people of Myanmar. What are the challenges in educating the people of Myanmar about the Rohingya situation?

Aung Kyaw Moe: The Spring Revolution [the revolt against the coup] in Myanmar is a wake-up call to the broader population of Myanmar to stand and act morally. Despite the very high loss of life and livelihood that the people have to bear every day, the people of Myanmar have come to the path of political consciousness where the military is no longer able to play the religious card of division and rule people to use.

The reality is that most of people’s negative views about the Rohingya were based on propaganda and misinformation that the military systematically spread.

But now we can see a pattern of change in the acceptance of the Rohingya. This is a win alongside the devastating loss. Some have begun to apologize for their silence when the genocidal attack on Rohingya took place in 2017.

Much needs to be done to educate people about their misconceptions. One of the challenges is helping Myanmar’s broader population unlearn decades of accumulated disinformation about the Rohingya.

But we hope that we are on the right track and that the Rohingya will be given the same rights under the law as any other ethnic group [group] in Myanmar and ensure that they receive the justice they deserve.

Al Jazeera: Myanmar is currently mired in a civil war, with the military committing daily human rights abuses, including bombings of civilians, arbitrary executions and the imprisonment of activists. What can the NUG do to address human rights violations – if anything – and what else could the international community do?

Aung Kyaw Moe: In fact, there is currently no civil war in Myanmar. It is a once and for all united revolution against brutal dictatorship.

Most ethnic armed organizations [EAOs] are allied with the NUG – not all of them, but the NUG is making every effort to build closer relationships with all EAOs fighting for equality and federal democracy. The reasons for ending the dictatorship may vary between EAOs, but one thing is common to all: ending the military dictatorship.

Of course, in this fight for rights, the military carries out daily bombings of civilians, arbitrary executions and detentions of activists, arson and airstrikes, violating international humanitarian law and international human rights law.

These crimes are war crimes and crimes against humanity.

The NUG systematically documents all of these serious human rights violations for both advocacy and legal purposes. We regularly engage with international actors to bring perpetrators before the international justice system and end the vicious cycle of impunity that the military has long enjoyed.

We are also archiving these human rights violations to ensure transitional justice in our domestic system as soon as the situation allows, which should be not too far in the future.

The international community needs [to do] four things:

1) Engage openly with the Government of National Unity.

2) Imposing a global embargo and restricting arms supplies to the military junta.

3) Stronger sanctions that cut funding to the military junta.

4) Do not give legitimacy to the military junta.

Al Jazeera: In 2019, Gambia took the Rohingya genocide to the International Court of Justice, which the military objected to. The NUG has offered to stand before the International Court of Justice in place of the military and face the charges brought against the state of Myanmar. How did that develop?

Aung Kyaw Moe: The Government of National Unity has withdrawn the previous government’s original appeal to the court and informed the court that the NUG will coordinate and work with the court to deliver justice to the Rohingya people. Regardless of whether or not the NUG can prevail before the International Court of Justice, the NUG will continue to work with all stakeholders to bring timely justice to the Rohingya.

Al Jazeera: The Government of National Unity is taking steps to bring about a cultural change within its ministry, such as appointing a Rohingya deputy human rights minister, including diverse ethnic groups and even appointing an openly gay minister, Aung Myo Min. What is the idea behind this change?

Aung Kyaw Moe: In pluralistic nations like Myanmar, harnessing the strength of diversity is key to achieving shared success. Again, this is a political consciousness that has shifted from the Bamar-centric approach to a more comprehensive approach. It is important to understand that when we – as a diverse group – come together and show solidarity, we are stronger together in the fight against the military.

Without harnessing the strength of diversity and ensuring the inclusion of all ethnic groups, Myanmar can never achieve an inclusive federal democracy. Therefore, consistency and real political will are essential to ensure that no one and all ethnic and religious groups are left behind [groups] get a seat at the table.

Al Jazeera: Aung San Suu Kyi was the “face” of human rights in Myanmar at the global level for many decades, but lost credibility during the 2017 genocide. What must the NUG do to reposition Myanmar’s human rights concerns internationally and draw attention to the atrocities that continue to be committed by the military?

Aung Kyaw Moe: I believe that the NUG must and will demonstrate tangible progress with real political will in addressing all issues, including the Rohingya crisis and other ethnic issues.

The NUG is open to cooperation both at the bilateral level with many nations and at the unilateral level with many intergovernmental organizations. We are on the right track and it is our principled commitment to draw attention to our agenda and ensure that it remains an international priority.

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