Aurora Prize laureate Kyaw Hla Aung, a prominent lawyer and community leader passed away today.
“We are deeply saddened by the passing of the 2018 Aurora Prize Laureate, esteemed lawyer Kyaw Hla Aung, who has dedicated his life to fighting for equality, education and human rights for the Rohingya people in Myanmar, Aurora said in a Twitter post.
Though imprisoned for a collective 12 years for ‘crimes’ including filing petitions and protesting peacefully, U Kyaw Hla Aung never stopped using his skills as an attorney to seek justice for the millions of Rohingya Muslims subject to persecution in and fleeing from Myanmar. Barred from attending his own daughter’s funeral, Aung faced both personal and systemic challenges in protecting a community threatened in its own homeland.
Myanmar’s Rohingya Muslim community has only recently been featured in international headlines as the “world’s most persecuted minority,” but lawyer and human rights activist U Kyaw Hla Aung had been subjected to the harsh reality of persecution of this ethnic group since the early 1980s. Plagued by discrimination, corruption and systemic inequality, the Rohingya community continues to suffer under the stranglehold and political violence. Armed with little more than his knowledge of the law and a tireless determination, Aung was successful in battling the inequalities of the system in Myanmar and helping his fellow Rohingya brothers and sisters seek justice.
After 24 years as a stenographer, Aung could no longer stand the racial and religious prejudice his people faced – stateless and without citizenship in the land they considered home after a 1982 Citizenship Law that excluded the Rohingyas as an ethnic group. It was discriminatory policies such as these that motivated Aung to champion Rohingyas’ rights – a choice that would leave him arrested and imprisoned repeatedly, spending a total of over 12 years in prison between 1986 and 2014 in jail. Throughout this period, Aung’s family suffered financially, and he was prevented from attending his oldest daughter’s funeral service despite repeated requests by his family.
Hla Aung was awarded the Aurora Prize in 2018.