By New Age, Published on April 16, 2024

Renowned Northern Irish peace activist Mairead Corrigan Maguire, also recipient of the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize, has nominated the UK-exiled Myanmar human rights activist and genocide scholar Maung Zarni for the prestigious prize.

On the eve of the Burmese traditional New Year this week, the Forces of Renewal Southeast Asia and the Free Rohingya Coalition jointly announced Maguire’s nomination, based on Zarni’s ‘impactful and tireless activism for peace and harmony among human communities over three decades’.

Maguire’s nomination letter to the Nobel committee highlighted Zarni’s activism both for democracy in Myanmar and for ‘non-violence campaigners for peace and freedom from Tibet, East Timor, Nigeria, India, Thailand, Palestine and the Jewish diaspora’.

While Zarni says that the Nobel prize ‘has been deeply tarnished’ by some awards, ‘of which the late Henry Kissinger was only the most infamous’, he adds, that ‘as a radical anti-imperialist, I am most proud to be Maguire’s choice’.

Mairead Maguire has long been a champion of anti-imperialist causes, including standing up for Israeli nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu, the oppressed Palestinians and WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange. Among her past nominees are Edward Snowden, Chelsea Manning and Julian Assange.

Marilyn Langlois, fellow member of Johan Galtung’s TRANSCEND network wrote, ‘Zarni became part of our family when he came to the US in 1988, and drew my daughter and me into his pioneering activism with the Free Burma Coalition, opposing military dictatorship in his home country, a few years later.  Ever since then, he has been a teacher and role model for me in advocacy for positive peace–not just the absence of war but affirming the dignity and self-determination of all people suffering the ravages of oppression and structural violence.’

Helen Jarvis of Cambodia, vice-president of the Permanent People’s Tribunal, and recipient of the 2021 Lifetime Award from the International Association of Genocide Scholars says, ‘Forthright and unabashed straightforwardness mixed with compassion were the characteristics that first struck me, when in 2013 in Bremen, Germany, I worked with Zarni as a fellow judge on the Second People’s Tribunal on Sri Lanka.’

‘Over the past decade I have been proud to work alongside him in many different campaigns, witnessing his continued principled commitment to stand the oppressed of this earth in the fight for freedom and justice,’ says Helen Jarvis.

Isham Rais, Malaysian film director, stand-up comedian, political and social activist, and FORSEA co-founder wrote, ‘I have known Zarni – The Enemy of the State – via FORSEA – an academician – a solid Public Intellectual – a thoroughbred activist not only for Myanmar but for the human race. He raised the Rohingya issue globally and stood up for the rights of the Palestinians – yes he is the enemy of oppression.’

Maung Zarni, 60, is co-founder and coordinator of several international activist networks and platforms, including the Free Burma Coalition (1995-2004), the FORSEA (2018 – present) and the Free Rohingya Coalition (2018-present). Zarni now serves as an adviser to Burma’s oldest ethnic resistance organisation, the Karen National Union, founded in 1947.

Zarni was born and raised in Mandalay in an extended military family to an educator mother and socially conscious businessman father under General Ne Win’s ‘socialist’ military dictatorship. As a young teenager, he learned community organising from his parents who led self-help communal initiatives for their residential neighbourhood.

In July 1988, on the eve of the nationwide uprisings known as 8.8.88 (after the uprising date 8 August 1988), Zarni left his native Myanmar for California in the United States where he enrolled as a foreign student on a Non-resident Tuition Scholarship offered by the Graduate Division of the University of California at Davis.

During his 17-years as an asylee in the United States, Zarni held a tenure-track assistant professorship in educational foundations at National-Louis University in Chicago, a position he gave up to be a full-time activist based in Berkeley, California.

He was married to Annie Leonard, a renowned American environmentalist and the acclaimed author of The Story of Stuff. Together they have a daughter Dewi, 24, an activist legal researcher who specialises in prisoners’ rights in California.

In 2005, Zarni relocated to the United Kingdom as a visiting research fellow in the Department of International Development at Oxford University, in hopes of resuming his academic career.

He subsequently worked as an associate professor of Asian Studies at the Universiti Brunei Darussalem, but resigned over censorship of his public engagement on the Burmese genocide of Rohingyas Post-resignation, he also declined an offer of a scholars-at-risk fellowship at the London School of Economics in 2014 to do anti-genocide activism full-time.

He remarried a fellow British scholar Natalie Brinham, a senior research associate with the Migration Mobilities Bristol, a specialist research institute at the University of Bristol. Together, they co-authored a ground-breaking 3-year study The Slow-Burning Genocide of Myanmar’s Rohingyas published by the University of Washington School of Law in 2014.

The couple live in Kent, with their daughter Nilah, 14, where both pursue their scholarship and activism on genocides, including Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza and the continuing genocidal conditions of Rohingyas in Myanmar.

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