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UUSC Announces the Recipient of the 2020 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship

By UUSC Staff on April 3, 2020

A collaboration of ALTSEAN-Burma, Women’s Peace Network, and others: Trailblazing with Digital Activism and Movement Building in Burma

While millions of Americans enjoy the privilege of being able to work remotely, a particular luxury during this COVID-19 pandemic, we also know that this is an opportunity that is not afforded to everyone. In nations like Burma, the ability to work virtually is a relatively unknown social practice as the country only recently came online after emerging from decades of authoritarian military rule and isolation. With its exponential shift from analog to digital technologies over the past eight years, most people in the country skipped multiple generations of technologies and media practices to rely almost exclusively on mobile smart phones, and the Facebook app in particular, as a principle means of communication and source of information.

With the increased and almost instantaneous access to mobile internet technologies, the proliferation of hate speech and fake news has been well documented and tied directly to the growth and acceptance of Islamophobia and anti-Muslim sentiment across Burmese society. This in turn has led to various instances of inter-communal violence across the country, the disenfranchisement of entire Muslim communities and political leaders, and, perhaps most notably, the rejection of the Rohingya minority and denial of the government’s genocidal policies and violence against them.

Civil society and human rights actors in Burma, often with international support, have responded by trying to document, correct, and counter the tidal wave of hate speech and fake news. However, few have sought to harness the country’s growing internet bandwidth to proactively mobilize and cultivate active networks to complement and grow their existing human rights work.

As the recipient of UUSC’s 2020 Human Rights Innovation Fellowship, ALTSEAN-Burma, in conjunction with Women’s Peace Network, and other women-led organizations and leaders from Burma, will do just that. The groups will be working together to develop and maintain an innovative online platform for knowledge-building, skill-sharing, networking, and mentorship among different religious and ethnic minority activists from across the world.

By developing a broad, interlinked and community-focused cohort of young women activists with a comprehensive skillset in relevant topics and tactics, the project aims to bridge existing skills gaps within the broader Rohingya community, while connecting them with progressive allies and mentors to build inter-community solidarity beyond those that are able to travel internationally. Rohingya participants will be empowered to negotiate and advocate on behalf of their mostly youth constituencies, improving the intra-community tension (primarily age-demarcated) within Rohingya communities themselves and allow those communities to better direct their energies toward advocating for their belonging and inclusion alongside Burma’s other ethnic and religious minority groups. Moreover, given the intense scrutiny placed on the Rohingya issue in the international political landscape, the organizations working to support the platform are hoping to neutralize feelings of exclusion on behalf of non-Rohingya communities, and thus further contribute to reducing inter-community tensions.

In addition to online skills-building workshops and networking, the project will also support the facilitation of in-person networking meetings and scholarships for short-term professional internships for its beneficiaries. The overall outcome will be a diverse and dynamic cohort of minority activists from Burma with a strong sense of movement building and solidarity who are equipped to approach complex social topics of promoting belonging and inclusion in a mutually reinforcing and solidarity-focused fashion.

The UUSC Human Rights Innovation Fellowship is a one-year $25,000 grant awarded each year to a charitable organization, designed to bring about systemic change by creating, nurturing, or spreading an innovation in human rights. The specific focus of the Innovation Fellowship this year is Collaboration on the Right to Belonging and Inclusion in Burma.

Photo Credit: ALTSEAN-Burma

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