RWI’s main partner in our work in Myanmar is the Myanmar National Human Rights Commission (MNHRC), which was established by a presidential decree in 2011.
Having only recently gained their legislative mandate in 2014, the commission has as its role, amongst others, to educate and promote human rights in Myanmar. To date, they have conducted a total of 63 outreach workshops spanning many different townships, regions and states in the country. Not a small feat for a relatively young commission.
I joined the most recent outreach activity for government officials in the Mandalay region, the economic and cultural hub of Upper Myanmar, where participants from various government ministries were exposed to the concept of human rights and its characteristics. They were guided through the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the main human rights conventions. On the same note, participants were also introduced to the commission, its mandates and the types of human rights complaints it can look into.
I asked Dr. Thura Aung from the Ministry of Health why he felt that this workshop had been useful. He said: “This is the first time I heard about women’s rights. I am not interested in politics but I want people to get an equal chance and opportunity. So it is very important to know about human rights.”
I also spoke to commissioner Khin Maung Lay from the MNHRC. He said the words “human rights” would have courted controversy a mere five years ago. And he says these types of awareness and outreach workshops are absolutely necessary.
He told me: “Myanmar has never talked about human rights until 2011. A lot of people never even had a real understanding of what human rights are. Even those who have gone through human rights training will not be able to fully comprehend the full impact of human rights. It struck me that we are raising awareness among people…We have to reach down to the grassroots level and reach each and every one of them. We need to do a lot more.”
It’s when I hear these types of stories here that I’m proud that the Raoul Wallenberg Institute will continue to support the commission’s human rights outreach and awareness raising work throughout 2015.